Are Solar Shingles Ready for Prime-Time?

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Solar shingles have been around for a long time but they’ve only started to gain some significant traction in the marketplace.  DOW has come up with some technological advances recently that is causing their popularity to soar.  But are they ready for Massachusetts residents?

In general, I would say the answer is “no” although there are some specific situations where they could be preferable over solar panels.

The first issue is cost.  The costs of a solar shingle installation are more than 50% higher than a similar capacity solar panel installation.  According to DOW’s website,

A typical residential roofing installation with conventional (non-solar) materials may cost a homeowner about $10,000. This same project with a 3kW POWERHOUSE Solar Shingle System installed on a portion of the rooftop may cost the homeowner about $25,000 after federal and utility solar incentives.

A 3kW solar array in Massachusetts would run about $15,000 before incentives and about $8,700 after.  Compare that to the additional $15,000 for a shingle system after subtracting the normal cost of a roof and you’re looking at a 73% cost increase to an already expensive investment.

Solar ShinglesThose costs would need to come down or their efficiency would need to increase before they could compete on cost.  Of course, those hurdles are not insurmountable as the technology and manufacturing processes mature.

Another issue concerns leasing, currently the biggest source of financing for residential solar installations.  Since these solar shingles also act as a roof, the leasing mechanism becomes complicated because the homeowner is now leasing part of their house’s structure.  What would happen if the lessee defaulted or moved?  Would the leasing company remove the homeowner’s roof?

Even if these issues get resolved, solar shingles will never completely replace solar panels as an option because they require a roof with the ideal orientation and angle.  Solar panels have racks which can be used to better angle the panels to capture sunlight whereas shingles rely on the roof being perfectly situated.  Obviously they could not be used in flat-roof or ground-mounted systems.

Where I do think they have a place is in new constructions, where leasing is not a consideration and the developer has control over the house’s orientation and roof angle.  Plus the additional cost can be spread over 30 years instead of 5-10 years for a solar panel loan.  Additionally, solar shingles are more aesthetically pleasing than solar panels and integrate right into the roofing surface.  If you value form over function, they may be an option for you.

But in general, while I think they certainly bear watching, they are still several years away from being considered an option for all but a few homeowners.

Gary

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