Building Integrated Photovoltaics or BIPVs, solar panels that look like shingles, tiles or slate, have made a comeback lately. Why? Because the tech is better, and the cost is lower.
Solar panels are increasing in popularity, with 2020 alone seeing a 43% increase in installations from 2019–a new record. By 2030, solar panel installations are expected to quadruple, making it clear solar panels are here to stay.
For some people however, the aesthetic impact of installing solar panels on their roofs is still a step too far.
For those turned off by the sheen of flat panels, however, building-integrated photovoltaics ( BIPVs ) do away with front-and-center disposition of solar panels on roofs, allowing building owners to generate solar energy more discreetly.
In this article, I will break down exactly what BIPVs are, how much they cost, which are the best BIPV systems, and more. First, here’s a quick table of contents:
What are BIPVs?
Building-integrated photovoltaics are, in the simplest terms, materials capable of generating solar power that replace ordinary building materials. Whether this is roofing, cladding, or otherwise, the Smart thing about BIPVs is that they become part of the building–not just an extension.
Commonly, BIPVs are used in roofs, most often as tiles. This is the clever part–BIPV roof tiles, otherwise known as photovoltaic (PV) slates, solar tiles, or solar shingles, can almost perfectly blend into existing tiled roofs. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to look primarily at BIPVs for roofs.
So there’s the “ugly solar panels” problem solved–now it’s about working out what BIPV system is the best for your needs.
Advantages of Solar Tiles for Building Design
- Discrete design means no bulky solar panels sitting on top of your roof. This allows much more seamless integration into your property’s appearance.
- Because solar tiles are a part of your roof, they’re inherently much more durable. A typical solar panel system on a roof is at a greater risk of weather damage, especially in high-wind areas. This is because solar panels are mounted on a metal rack that’s slightly raised from the roof, so they are naturally more exposed to the elements. However, to make it clear, modern solar panels are still designed to withstand weather extremes, it’s just that solar tiles are more durable by default.
- Solar tiles, like all solar systems, can help reduce your electricity bill by up to 50% and give you access to clean energy.
- They’re long lasting, with a predicted lifespan of between 25 and 40 years. Admittedly this is only a prediction, albeit a well-informed one, because solar tiles are a relatively new technology having only been widely available for around 10 years.
- Low maintenance. Solar tiles, when properly installed require very little in the way of upkeep, but again, because it’s a new technology we won’t have all the answers until around 15-20 years from now.
Disadvantages of Solar Tiles
- High upfront costs. Solar tiles are definitely more expensive than ordinary solar panel systems, with the typical cost per roofing square (100 square feet) sitting around 1,100–2,600. It’s understandable because solar tiles are a new technology, but it’ll give many people interested in switching to solar pause for thought.
- Lengthy installation time. Properly installing a solar tile system requires specialists trained in both roofing and electrical work. It will usually take around two weeks to fully install a solar roof and you’ll likely need a team of around 10-15 people to do it! As technology improves and more people opt for solar tiles, the installation process will no doubt get quicker and require less people to do it.
- The return on investment isn’t great, with the expected ROI of roof with solar tiles taking around 15-20 years. These days, a solar panel system has an ROI of roughly five years.
- Lower efficiency than solar panels. Until technology improves, solar tiles currently have to trade efficiency for aesthetics. By efficiency we mean how much sunlight solar tiles convert into electricity–right now, solar panels average at around 25-30% efficiency, compared to solar tiles which operate between 10-20%.
The Best Solar Tiles Overall
Each of the BIPV systems we’ve listed here are different in their own ways, which we’ll go into in more detail in the sections below. For now, here’s an overview of the best solar tiles available on the US market.
Best Solar Tiles for Design: Tesla Solar Roof
World-renowned clean-energy brand Tesla first introduced its Solar Roof in 2016 and since then, it has become one of the most popular solar tile options in the United States.
Purely from a design perspective, Tesla’s Solar Roof wins hands down. You get access to four different tiling options, with each carrying the same sleek design expected of Tesla products.
Because of the variety in choice, it’s remarkably easy to blend Tesla’s PV slates into your home’s overall design. A statement on their website reads “each tile looks great up-close or from the street, complementing your home’s natural aesthetic styling.”
Looking through the example images it’s hard to disagree. A key advantage is that Tesla will replace your entire roof with their slates, although not every slate will be solar capable. This helps add to their seamless appeal, as most PV slate systems can still stand out against existing roof tiles.
One oddity of Tesla’s Solar Roof is that the company is yet to officially reveal its efficiency rating, leaving owners of their solar tiles in the dark. This is a bit strange considering Tesla is well known for talking proudly and in detail about its technological achievements.
A notable downside of Tesla’s Solar Roof is that it cannot be added to an existing roof – instead, you will need to replace the entire roof with their tiles. Naturally this comes at some expense, with the average cost of roofing a 2,000 sq ft home being around 55,300.
Compare this to the typical cost of a non-solar roof on a 2,000 sq ft home, which is roughly 14,000. Or, the cost of adding an ordinary solar panel installation, which will set you back 18,000 for a 6 kw system.
Tesla Solar Roof specifications:
- Dimensions per tile/shingle: L 45” x W 15” x H 2mm
- Can withstand wind speeds up to 166 miles per hour
- Maximum power per tile/shingle: 71.67 watts
- Weight per tile/shingle: 7 lbs
- Warranty: 25 years (12.5 for the inverter)
Best Solar Tiles for Durability: SunTegra Solar Shingles (STS 114)
SunTegra is another player on the solar roofing market, with a number of versions of their solar shingles available. We’re focusing on their STS 114 range here, which provides the highest output of their solar shingles.
STS 114 shingles come equipped with SunTegra’s “TegraVent” technology, which gives them excellent resistance against overheating. Their simple design gives them added durability too. According to their website, SunTegra’s solar shingles contain “50% fewer parts than conventional rack-mounted systems”, which leaves far fewer things to go wrong than those of their competitors.
SunTegra Solar Shingles specifications:
- Dimensions per tile/shingle: L 52” x W 23” x H 0.75”
- Can withstand wind speeds up to 130 miles per hour
- Maximum power per tile/shingle: 114 watts
- Weight per tile/shingle: 18 lbs
- Warranty: 25 years
Best Solar Tiles for Efficiency: Luma Solar Roof
Luma’s solar tiles share a similar sleek aesthetic to Tesla’s Solar Roof, with installations looking every bit as stylish and futuristic. The best part? They’re also incredibly efficient.
On average, Luma’s solar tiles boast a conversion efficiency rating of 22.1%, which in the world of solar tiles is almost unheard of. Though still not quite at the level of traditional solar panels, Luma’s solar tiles definitely give you plenty of power.
At around 4.50 per watt too, Luma’s solar tiles are up there with the most affordable options on the market.
Luma Solar Roof specifications:
- Dimensions per tile/shingle: L 54.37” x W 15.62” x H 2”
- Maximum power per tile/shingle: 80 watts
- Efficiency: 22.1%
- Static wind load: 2,400 Pa
- Static snow load: 5,400 Pa
- Weight per tile/shingle: 19.8 lbs
- Warranty: 25 years
Best Solar Tiles for Versatility: Forward Solar
Forward Solar, a startup company with serious investment, have created their own range of solar tiles. The unique part about their offering is its metal standing seam roof type, which enables their solar shingles to be attached to roofs and garages, barns, warehouses, and other industrial-style roofs.
Buying solar tiles from Forward Solar means paying a remarkably cheap 3.75 per watt, which is by some margin the most affordable of the solar tiles described in this article. They’re not actually available for installation at the time of writing, but you can reserve them on their website now.
Forward Solar specifications (please note, available specs are currently limited):
- Energy density: 19 watts per square foot
- Venting: Passive Venting System
- Warranty: 30 years
Power Shingles. GAF’s new Timberline Solar shingles resemble traditional asphalt shingles.
GAF, one of America’s best-known roofing companies, launched their solar shingles range in early 2022. Details on things like price-per-watt are currently limited, but one thing that was announced has definitely caught the attention of the industry.
GAF’s solar shingles, called Timberline Solar, use half as many connections as other rival manufacturers, including Tesla. What this means is that there are fewer connections that can break, which in turn dramatically increases the reliability of GAF’s solar shingles.
The company’s extensive reach across the US has many solar power supporters hoping that they can persuade more people than ever to consider adopting the technology. The price point is quite appealing too, with the predicted cost to roof a 2,000-square-foot home being around 30,000 (substantially lower than Tesla’s Solar Roof offering).
GAF Timberline Solar specifications:
- Dimensions per tile/shingle: L 64.25” x W 17.2” x H 1”
- Maximum power per tile/shingle: 45 watts
- Warranty: 25 years
Power Generator of the Future
BIPVs are still an emerging technology, but they represent one of the best options for generating clean energy. all while keeping the character of your home intact.
Despite the substantial upfront costs right now, as the tech is refined and perfected, it’s only logical that will fall. This is especially true now that big-hitters in the roofing industry like GAF have gotten involved. With the price of solar panels dropping rapidly too, PV slates will inevitably follow suit.
GAF Energy’s “Nailable” Timberline Solar Shingles
US company GAF Energy unveiled its Timberline Solar roof shingle product yesterday, and it’s created a fair bit of buzz.
GAF Energy’s sister company GAF seems to know a thing or two about roofing. The company claims that of the five million new roofs installed across the USA each year, a quarter of those come from GAF – so its move into developing a Building-Integrated PV (BIPV) product isn’t suprising.
“Solar roofs are the future of clean energy, and Timberline Solar is the game-changing innovation that will get us there,” said Martin DeBono. president of GAF Energy.
The shingles come in long strips with connectors on the front face, which are protected by conduit when installed. All that’s needed for installation in terms of tools is a nail gun, wielded by a GAF certified installer.
This isn’t a retrofit solution – it’s for new roofs or for full roof replacements.
The nailable Timberline Solar shingles are warranted to withstand winds up to 130 mph (around 210 kph). Just on warranty, there’s 25 years of coverage against manufacturing defects that cause leaks, 15 years against wind damage caused by winds up to 130 mph and 25 years of coverage for performance. I didn’t see mention of a specific product warranty, but that’s assumed to be covered under performance 1. There are also extended warranties that can be purchased.
Show Me The Money (And Specifications)
GAF Energy did a bang-up job of getting attention for the Timberline Solar launch, but is vague in its promo on a lot of the nitty-gritty (and the not-so). This isn’t uncommon when new solar products are launched, but disappointing nonetheless.
There wasn’t any mention of cost, but if it comes in well under the very pricey Tesla Solar Roof (not yet available in Australia) and assuming it’s a solid product; it could go gangbusters in the USA. Rumour has it Timberline will be around half the cost of Tesla Solar Roof.
To GAF Energy’s credit, they haven’t over-hyped the potential financial benefits – stating it “may” pay for itself over time:
You’d want it to – otherwise, there’s not a lot of point aside from the emissions reduction benefits and aesthetics – and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
I couldn’t find a spec sheet for the solar shingle product on GAF Energy’s web site, but I was able to glean specifications for Timberline Solar elsewhere:
- Dimensions: 1,632 x 435 x 26mm
- Weight: 4.58kg
- Avg. ambient temperature range:.40°C – 50°C
- Capacity: 45W
- Cell type: Monocrystalline PERC
- Temperature Coefficient (Voc).0.30%/°C
- Temperature Coefficient (Pmax)-0.39%/°C
The solar roof shingles are to be assembled at GAF Energy’s manufacturing and RD facility in San Jose, California.
Timberline Solar certainly impressed judges at CES 2022 in Las Vegas, taking out the Best of Innovation (Smart Cities) award, and was named an honoree in Best of Innovation (Smart Home).
Will Timberline Solar Be Available In Australia?
GAF Energy hasn’t said. While shingle roofs aren’t all that common in Australia, I noticed a company in Victoria installing them that is the exclusive distributor of GAF roofing products locally. So, GAF gear is here, and perhaps the Timberline Solar shingle product will follow.
“You can’t get energy from every roof unless everyone can choose a solar roof,” says GAF Energy. “With our breakthrough technology and commitment to roofing excellence, we’re working hard to make that happen, as quickly as possible.”
But I’m not sure if they had Australians in mind as Americans can have odd interpretations of the term “everyone”.
- Solar panels usually come with two warranties – product, which warrants against defects in workmanship, and performance, which warrants power output over X years – commonly 25. The relationship between product and performance warranties is a bit fuzzy, but the product warranty is the most important one. ↩
It’s a roof. With solar energy. It’s that simple.
They say a technology has really arrived when it becomes seamless. When its engineering and integration are so advanced, it becomes simple. Introducing Timberline Solar™. A roof designed and developed to produce clean energy, while doing all the other things that roofs do so well. It’s really that simple.
Power and precision
Aesthetics are a cornerstone of our products. Our roof-integrated solar products have superior water-shedding qualities. And they’re installed by those who know roofs best, the world over: GAF-certified roofing contractors.
Sleek, low-profile, and precision-built, these are roofs neighbors will envy.
Learn more about our solar roof offering
Timberline Solar™ offers a solar shingle roofing system designed and assembled in the United States. Available in select markets—with Rapid expansion plans—Timberline Solar™ is changing clean energy adoption for homeowners.
There’s no better time to go solar than when you’re getting a new roof.
Straight from the source: roofers react to Timberline Solar™
With a GAF Energy solar roof, you’ll not only get a roof that’s durable and has curb appeal, it’s also financially Smart, since you can save on your energy bills over time.
“With Resnick Roofing and GAF Energy, we had a clear sense that we would be working with good teams. It made the jump to solar easy when we needed a new roof.”
We’ve got you covered
A GAF Energy solar roof makes it easy for you to choose a cutting-edge roofing option, one that is also reliable, certified by key testing agencies like UL to meet the highest standards.
Working with a GAF-certified roofer, too, means you’re working with those who know roofing best–and you have the option to be covered under an industry-leading warranty.
This warranty is backed by our partnership with GAF, a company that has been in business for more than 100 years.
“The overall cost of my roof with the solar was surprisingly affordable and the financing they offered was very competitive. Having the same installer for both the shingles and solar simplified the installation process and eliminated the need for contacting multiple parties if any issues arise.”
Local choice, global impact
Clean energy is the new paradigm.
Choosing a solar roof for your home means contributing to the acceleration of renewable energy use. And that’s a great thing, for now and for generations to come.
GAF Energy to start second solar shingle manufacturing plant in Texas
Local news outlets are reporting that GAF Energy will open a second manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Texas, for its solar shingle product. The city council has approved a development agreement that would allow GAF Energy to build a 450,000-sq.-ft building off I-35, just a half hour from downtown Austin.
GAF Energy says the new manufacturing site would result in 265 jobs over five years in manufacturing, office and RD.
The company released a solar roofing product in January 2022 and has been making the nailable Timberline Solar shingles out of its 50-MW facility in San Jose, California. The California building has been reported to be 112,000 sq. ft.
GAF Energy confirmed that the two facilities combined will be able to produce 300 MW of Timberline Solar shingles.
The Timberline Solar shingle is approximately 64- by 17-in, while the solar portion (one row of 16 half-cut cells that generates 45 W) measures 60- by 7.5-in. That extra non-solar portion is TPO roofing material and is nailed to a roof. GAF Energy is tapping into its 10,000 GAF roofing dealers to install the solar product.
Earlier this year, Solar Power World spoke to Reynolds Holmes, GAF Energy’s VP of services and product management, about the new product.
“You have to design and develop a great product that has an accessible price point, but you also have to build the infrastructure to scale this product,” he said. “The thing we’ve leaned heavily on and made design decisions maybe against being the highest power is making sure it’s installable by this 10,000-strong network. At the end of the day, if you have a great product that meets all needs but there’s no one who can install it, you might as well not have a great product.”
GAF Energy released a press release on the new factory announcement, which is expected to reach full operation by the end of 2023.
“The response from both consumers and roofers to our Timberline Solar roof has been tremendous and we’re thrilled to be expanding capacity to meet that growing demand. Georgetown has a long track record as a clean energy leader, so it is the perfect home for us to build the future of solar,” said Martin DeBono, President of GAF Energy. “We launched Timberline Solar because we believed that more consumers would choose solar if they had a more reliable, durable, and attractive option. The market has confirmed our belief — now we’re turning that belief into reality and building the future of clean energy here in the U.S.”
Story updated 07/19 to include quote from GAF Energy
About The Author
Kelly Pickerel has over a decade of experience reporting on the U.S. solar industry and is currently editor in chief of Solar Power World.
Комментарии и мнения владельцев
Roofs are only good for 20-25yrs. Installing these on a existing roof would foolish as the cost to remove and replace them would be prohibitive. I have a ground mount system the panels are 450 watts, these panels are 45 watts each. People really need to due there research.
There are about three houses near me that have the GAF flush roof mount solar PV panel systems and they seem to work well in summer heat as well as snow. The GAF product like the TESLA roofing tile product has a problem with piercings on the roof, wiring into usuable panel strings and feeding the house inverter(s). Still not sure how these tile strips meet RSD requirements under the NEC. Of course if a fireman has to hack through the roof to vent for an attic fire, not sure it would be as simple as replacing the obviously damaged panel strings. The close proximity to the roof may allow stress cracking of solar PV tile cells that were not breached. The racked close mount of framed solar PV panels seems like a better OM prospect over something that may last 30 or more years on one’s roof.