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Solar PV tiles: the pros and cons explained

Posted by Paul Hutchens on 14 October 2011 at 9:06 am

Q: We are currently in the planning process to build our own house and have lots of questions regarding the use of solar roof tiles.

1. Do you generate as much electricity with these roof tiles with the equivalent amount of panel space ?

2. I have noticed you can have panels that heat water and panels that generate electricity, do you have tiles that do both of these things? Is one more cost effective than the other?

3. Is there anyone or anywhere I could find that would give me a ballpark square meterage cost and a comparison between the 2 options?

Solar panels or tiles?

Solar panels divide people’s opinions. Some think they look great; funky, futuristic, clean and high-tech (I am guilty of being in this camp – but then I would, wouldn’t I?) and others that view them as an eyesore.

So is it possible to fit solar generating capacity in a less obvious way? Well yes – there are solar tiles.

These are solar panels which are, or appear to be, roof tiles. Admittedly they are not completely the same as the normal roof tiles but they are certainly less obtrusive than standard solar PV modules.

Solar PV tiles are available from suppliers such as Solarcentury and Redland. Solar thermal tiles are less freely available and are quite rare. There is a product range available; again from Solarcentury.
There are no solar tiles that will provide electricity and hot water available in the market – at least as far as I know!

So it is a no-brainer then; fit solar tiles instead of panels unless you want to make a statement to your neighbours with your solar panels. Well – as is often the case – it is not as simple as that. The main issue is cost or, more to the point, return on investment. Solar tiles are more expensive – often double the price – and less efficient – typically 10 – 20% less than than solar panels.

And as solar PV systems are being presented as an excellent investment with the Feed in Tariffs this will have an impact on their popularity and applicability.

Solar tiles still may have a part to play in the sustainable design of our buildings however. For those that view the appearance of their roof as paramount or for whom cost is not a concern may still want to make the extra investment. Also with new build homes, it may be practical to install solar tiles instead of conventional roof tiles which will offset some of the cost and look great; particularly if they cover the entire roof pitch.

Maybe solar tiles are more applicable to the new build market where the focus is more on aesthetics and meeting targets (such as the Code for Sustainable Homes) – rather than the Feed in Tariffs. To quote the Solarcentury website; If you are re-roofing, building an extension or a new home (solar) integrated tiles are the most appropriate.

Photo by Pulpolux

About the author: Paul Hutchens is founder and director of Eco2Solar, which installs solar systems around the UK.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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