So, you want to live a greener lifestyle, and the fact that reducing your power consumption is easy on the pocketbook doesn’t hurt either, right? You hear all this talk about solar energy, and how the sun is a free, renewable resource compared to most of the ways we generate power down here on earth.
Well, solar power is far from perfect, and we’re going to talk a little bit about that in a moment. However, we don’t want to discourage you from adopting some solar technology, provided your budget can cover it. Even with the downfalls of solar in general, any power it can provide is less power providing a carbon footprint and less money you have to pay your power provider.
So, you’ve probably heard about solar shingles, and how cool this new technology really is. But, you still see a whole lot of traditional solar panels on roofs, and it makes you wonder, exactly why haven’t solar shingles caught on? Well, we’re going to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of traditional solar panels versus solar shingles, because we believe that being fully transparent about this is important. No technology is perfect, especially young technologies like solar shingles, and they do bring their share of challenges.
Before we do that, though, let’s talk about the pros and cons of solar in general, because a lot of people seem to think that solar panels are some sort of magic that can convert the tiniest little bit of light into enough power for a house. Frankly, physics doesn’t work that way.
How Do Solar Panels Work?
First, let’s talk about how solar panels actually work. The technical term for a solar panel is a photovoltaic cell, basically meaning that they convert photons, or light particles, into electrical voltage. This concept is nothing new, solar power having been experimented with all the way back in the Victorian age, albeit to a significantly reduced amount of effectiveness compared to modern solar panels.
The simplest way to explain it is that a solar panel has two layers of silicon, layer A and layer B. These layers have different inherent electrical charges to them on a structural level. When light particles, or photons, strike layer A, they knock an electron free, which layer B rejects, and so it becomes part of an electrical current discharge.
While this technology improves significantly every year, the biggest problem with solar power is not in the dependency on the sun itself, but rather how woefully inefficient it actually is.
Solar power is presently under 50% efficient, and it’s estimated that it can never become more than something around 75% efficient, perhaps in a couple of hundred years. In an area where there’s a lot of sun, this inefficiency doesn’t matter that much, and you can indeed power a house, even a modern one full of electronics, with reliable solar energy.
The issue is that very few places have sun that you can rely on like this. The tiniest little bit of cloud cover, or the tiniest bit of smudge on the panels, can result in a drop to less than 2% efficiency, which can render it moot in the long run. Thus, while we don’t want to discourage anyone from using solar energy, we want to remind people not to depend on this unless they live in an area that sees a lot of sun.
Solar shingles aren’t a brand-new technology, as slightly miniaturized panels have been around since the 1970s, to some level or another. However, the modern concept looks very much like metal shingles from a distance, albeit more reflective, and smokier than pure black and shiny.
They have a distinct look, but it’s not an unpleasant one, and as the technology matures, you can expect even more impressive looks to come from these in the future. However, the solar shingles face a lot of problems, especially when you consider how many brutal things a roof must stand up against during its lifetime.
Consider for a moment what a run-of-the-mill asphalt shingle endures during its tenure on your roof. It’s exposed to tremendous heat, potentially heavy ice and snow, and severe winds throughout its lifetime. Shingles like these are designed to fall away and be easily replaced, but that’s not the case with solar shingles.
Where a typical asphalt shingle is pretty easy to install, the solar shingles have to be wired in, involving a complicated electrical project, and they’re costly to replace, averaging well over $25 per square foot.
On top of this, they’re not as good at protecting your roof as other shingle materials and given that many times of the year they may be obscured by snow, or just not doing their job because of cloud cover, you have a weakened roof for no real reason. They also require a significant and special kind of slope on your roof, in order to optimize solar exposure.
Solar panels can be placed on top of just about any type of roofing material, without doing any damage. They are far easier to wire in, being an external electrical project, they work at various slopes that solar shingles do not, and they aren’t as badly abused as a roofing material.
That said, for the moment, unless you live in a very sunny area, you’re going to get more bang for your buck out of solar panels, though if you do live in an area with the proper weather, you can get a 71.6% ROI out of solar shingles. They’re just not durable enough, nor are they efficient enough to justify in most parts of the country at this point.
However, if you live in an area the gets enough sun, and you have the budget for solar shingles, and don’t mind the expense of maintaining them, far be it from us to discourage it, as the more people that adopt this technology, the faster it’s going to mature and become more practical for average people.
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