Solar panels, Solar power system  

Solar shingles

Solar shingles are small solar panels made to look like regular roofing shingles. They are made from flexible thin-film solar cells and provide an attractive alternative to silicon solar panels. Their small size makes them easier to install and allows more choice in where they are located. While they have many advantages over silicon panels, consideration should be given to the extra time and cost of installing them.

The main problem with most solar panels is their size and appearance. Silicon cells are brittle and require a rigid support structure. Panels made from silicon cells often make a building look unattractive when they are mounted on the roof. Solar shingles have a thin profile which conforms better to the roof profile, and they have a darker color which blends in well with asphalt shingles. They can be distributed across the entire roof and even used to create attractive mosaic patterns, whereas silicon panels are commonly placed together as one large panel.

Installing solar shingles is easier than installing silicon panels, but often takes longer because of the large number of shingles required. Panels with several integrated shingles are available that can reduce the time required. Once the original shingles are removed, the wires on the back of the solar shingles are pushed through into the roof cavity, and the shingle is nailed into place using the holes along the edge of their housing. Nails should not be driven through any other part of the shingle because of the risk of breaking the thin wires that connect the solar cells to the output wires.

The wires from the solar shingles are connected to junction boxes inside the roof cavity. The boxes are then connected to a solar regulator, also called a controller or conditioner. The regulator is connected to the battery bank and it's purpose is to prevent the shingles from overcharging the batteries, and also to stop the batteries from discharging back through the shingles at night. Before the batteries can be connected to the switchboard, their output needs to be converted from low voltage to mains power voltage by using an inverter. Wiring the inverter to the switchboard is dangerous and should only be done by an electrician, and it is actually illegal to do otherwise in some countries.

Solar shingles are silent, pollution free, and require minimal maintenance. Cleaning dust and leaves off them improves their performance but this is usually done by the rain and wind. The battery banks will need to be replaced after several years and this can be expensive, but it is a problem common to all solar electrical systems. As with other solar panels, the initial cost of installing them is high, so it is only in the later years that real cost savings appear. Government subsidies are available in most countries and these help reduce the initial cost, allowing savings to be made sooner. Some electricity companies even allow net metering, where excess solar power is sent to the grid through the meter. This can reduce the monthly electricity bill, even to the point where the company starts paying for the power provided.

The decision to use solar shingles over other solar panels is mostly a choice about appearance. They can provide the same amount of free electricity but have much less visual impact on shingle roofs. The require slightly more time and money to be spent on installation but the improvement is worth the cost. While the electricity they produced is more expensive than grid power in the early years, shingles can last several decades and produce significant savings in the long term. While solar tiles are also available for ceramic tile roofs, the range of styles is limited and makes finding a matching tile difficult.

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