Solar Roof Shingles – Technology Comes of Age

Solar roof shingles are back with a bang. After an initial flurry of interest in this alternative form of energy that could be baked into our roof, it waned as solar roof shingles proved expensive, hard to install and appealing only to a fringe audience of environment-friendly home owners. But now it is making a comeback. Helped by Federal and State incentives such as tax breaks for homes built with solar roof shingles, and the skyrocketing cost of power that makes the potential of these energy generating roof shingles to cut utility bills appealing, solar roof shingles are gaining a large following.

All of these advantages notwithstanding, solar roof shingles may still not have caught the imagination of home owners without one more stellar benefit – the newer forms are aesthetically appealing. Fifty years ago, solar roofing involved installing large solar panels on your roof. Some of them were as big as table tennis tables, and as bulky as them. But belatedly an industry on the cutting edge of technology has woken up to the importance of coupling art with functionality, and newer solar roof shingles are architecturally beautiful. The new solar-powered shingles blend in nicely with conventional roofing materials in a way that makes them hard to distinguish from any other home.

Special forms of solar roof shingles called BIPVs (or building integrated photo voltaics) have brought new life to an intriguing concept in roof construction. BIPVs are made of solar cells integrated into slate, metal, cement and even asphalt roof shingles. In photovoltaic cells, when sunlight strikes a semiconductor, it is transformed into electrical energy. A single tile may not generate much current. But even the BIPVs in a single solar roof shingle can create between 100 and 200 watts, which can power a single bulb or a small window fan.

The real power of solar roof shingles comes by serially linking up large numbers of these power generating units. Installed over old roofing or as a new alternative, the roof shingles have wires that must be hooked together and then tied into the building’s electrical mains. The energy generated during sunlight hours can be stored in a capacitor for later release, consumed immediately or even returned to the electrical company in exchange for a credit.

Contrary to what many home owners think, you may not want to cut off ties with your local power grid just because you’ve installed solar roof shingles. There may be trouble during rainy weather or in case of break downs which will strand you without backup. Instead when you set up your BIPV to run in tandem with the power utility, you get the best of both worlds. Whenever the roof shingles don’t produce enough power, you draw from the grid – and pay only for the lesser consumption. When your shingle roof generates a power surplus, you send it back to the system.

In certain states like California and Arizona, this makes solar roof shingles a rather profitable investment. There are at least 40 states that will permit you to return unused electricity from your solar cells back to the grid, in return for payment by way of credits that can be set off against your power consumption from the grid.

An energy efficient solar roof that creates 2 kw of power can cost between $12,000 and $17,000 which will add another hundred dollars or so to the mortgage. But as Federal tax breaks offer a generous 25% cut on the installation cost, a cool $2,000 to $3,000 gets slashed right off your tax bill in the first year, not to mention the credits you can earn from your power utility. This quickly makes your solar roof shingles pay for themselves.

But what if you don’t get tax credits, or are not eligible for them for any reason? You’ll still generate electricity through your BIPV roof at a very low cost as compared to what you pay today. This becomes more efficient the greater your surface area for solar roof shingles, and the part of the world you live in (more specifically the number of hours of direct sunlight your home is exposed to).

Eventually, the decision about whether or not to install solar roof shingles will depend upon where you live. Sunnier places generate more solar power than buildings located in temperate and cold climates. Another factor is the local charges for electricity from the grid. If the same amount of electricity is generated from two buildings, the home owner who reaps the richer reward is the one who has to pay premium rates for the power he would otherwise consume.

As technology and innovation speed up, these costs are growing smaller and efficiency is increasing. Pretty soon you will not have to worry about the high cost of installation. Electricity rates are steadily going up. Solar energy must step in to fill the deficit. Solar energy sources are growing competitive in terms of cost, and manufacturers are growing more competitive. Creative technology such as sandwiching photovoltaic cells between translucent glass panels has created attractive solar roof shingles that are also efficient at generating electricity.

If you’ve been thinking about solar roof shingles, and hesitating about doubts and uncertainties such as higher cost or unreliable technology, stop worrying and make the move now. You’ll not only save on costs and keep the environment friendly, but you’ll also be the proud owner of a roofing system that will pay you every day, for the rest of the lifetime of your building.

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