As home energy costs continue to spiral, and concerns about the environment continue to grow, many people are seriously considering Solar PV as a possible way to both reduce their costs and ‘do their bit’ for the environment. However, the thought of a roof covered with ‘ugly’ solar panels can sometimes be off-putting, but recent developments in solar technology could provide a more pleasing alternative; the solar tile.
What are solar tiles?
Solar tiles or slates are a relatively new development, in which solar technology is embedded into tiles, and installed onto a roof, either replacing existing tiles, or as part of a new build. There are several manufacturers of these tiles.
These tiles can be directly attached to existing roof structures without the need for specialist fittings. They have also been subject to the same checks as standard roof tiles and slate, and so meet requirements for weather, wind and fire safety.
What are the advantages?
Solar tiles appear to have a number of advantages over solar panels. Firstly, they are designed so they can be fitted by general roof installers a ‘straight out of the box’ solution – taking no longer to fit than a standard roof. Their modular nature makes installation more flexible, with the potential to fit around existing roof features such as chimneys, increasing the efficiency of the system; individual tiles are ‘plugged’ together, which also allows for the system to be extended in the future.
Aesthetically, solar tiles are more pleasing when compared with solar panels. They fit flush to the existing tiles (although they do need to be surrounded with standard tiles), so they have less of a visual impact a factor which could be important if you are planning to fit Solar PV to a listed building or one within a conservation area. Generally, you will not need to obtain planning permission, although circumstances can vary so it pays to check before you install.
Solar tiles are also long-lasting, with a lifespan of at least 20-30 years, and requiring minimal maintenance, with reputable suppliers offer guarantees for their products. Some sources have reported an increase in the value of a house of between 6% and 8% following installation of solar tiles.
What are the possible drawbacks?
If you are considering solar tiles as an alternative to panels, there are a few possible drawbacks you need to consider. Unlike solar panels, which can be specifically angled to ensure they are facing the sun, solar tiles are fitted directly to the roof. This means they cannot be angled so specifically, and can only operate at maximum efficiency on a south-facing (or nearly south-facing) roof. If your house doesn’t have the correct aspect, solar tiles may not operate so effectively.
You will also want to consider the overall efficiency of solar tiles (i.e. the rate at which sunlight is converted into energy). The efficiency of solar tiles has improved with the introduction of these recent tiles, and it is now possible to buy tiles which have an efficiency of 20% (well above the lower end of the solar panel market). However, this is still lower than the most efficient solar panels, which achieve a 26.1% rate of efficiency.
Also, as solar tiles are designed to be fitted in place of standard tiles, they are probably not the best option if your roof is in good condition. They are perhaps best used if you need to replace existing tiles, or when building a new house, otherwise the cost could be prohibitive.
Opinions vary as to whether the cost of installation is greater than the cost of solar panels, but some have suggested the initial costs could be as much as double that of a ‘standard’ installation.
Are solar tiles the right solution for me?
Naturally there are many factors to consider when you are deciding between solar tiles or solar panels.
If you are looking for an installation which offers maximum flexibility, together with the possibility of extending the system in the future, then solar tiles could be a good choice. They have less visual impact than solar panels, so if the look of your installation is important (or necessary) to you, again they may be the best solution. There is no doubt that the ease of installation, enabling the tiles to be fitted relatively easily to existing roof structures, is also likely to be a major incentive.
However, you will need to make sure that your roof has the correct aspect to get the maximum benefit from sunlight, and if your existing tiles don’t need replacing, fitting solar tiles could be an unnecessary expense.
Whatever your final choice, it is essential to make sure that both your tiles and your supplier are MCS accredited; this will ensure that you are not ‘ripped off’ by rogue traders, and is also a requirement if you are considering applying for funding to fit your solar technology, and to earn money from the Feed-In Tariff, in which you are paid for any excess power you supply to the National Grid.
Whatever solution you opt for, make sure that you do your homework thoroughly first, and consider all the factors carefully before making your final choice.
Ian Wright is a passoniate supporter of Green energy in the UK. You can learn more about solar energy options from his website The Eco Experts.