There are many words used to describe unconventional solar PV technologies used on rooftops. Within the “building-applied” category — basically anything that isn’t traditional solar panels attached to racks — terms like solar roofs, solar shingles and solar tiles are becoming more common, especially after Elon Musk and Tesla announced their solar roof idea in 2016. While the Tesla solar roof has yet to show successful application besides a few pilot installations, there are plenty of building-applied solar products on the market right now for homeowners looking for something different than the status solar quo.
Rackless solar systems
There are two building-applied solar veterans that make what they call solar shingles but may be better described as small, rectangular solar panels that are installed without traditional racking systems. CertainTeed’s Apollo II solar shingles are installed alongside asphalt shingles. The 63-W monocrystalline solar panels are about 46 in. long and 17 in. wide — bigger than asphalt shingles but smaller than traditional solar panels. SunTegra has two building-applied products, also using monocrystalline solar panels that are bigger than the surrounding shingles. The SunTegra Shingle is about 52 in. long and 20 in. wide and rates at 110 W. The SunTegra Tile is also about 52 in. long but 14 in. wide and produces 70 W. The CertainTeed and SunTegra products are attached to the roofing deck for a sleek solar look not often achieved by elevated racks.
GAF Energy has a solar system that similarly attaches to the deck. GAF Energy’s DecoTech system installs full-sized solar panels without traditional racking in the middle of a roof, while normal asphalt shingles are still used along the perimeter. The GAF Energy system offers low-profile aesthetics with a more traditional solar power output.
Dow was a leader in “solar shingles” until it dropped out of the business in 2016. The original Dow Powerhouse product used CIGS thin-film solar cells mounted to the roof decking, with traditional roofing shingles or tiles around the perimeter. One of the larger problems with Dow’s design was that the thin-film solar cells got very hot with little ventilation that close to the roof, so power output decreased. In 2017, national solar installer RGS Energy bought the Powerhouse brand from Dow and began marketing improved solar shingles, this time made with monocrystalline solar cells. The 41-in. long, 13-in. wide Powerhouse 3.0 solar panels have been rated at about 55 W. RGS Energy announced in 2019 it was ditching its residential installation arm to focus exclusively on Powerhouse solar shingle sales. (2020 UPDATE: RGS Energy has filed for bankruptcy.)
One company that is still trying the CIGS thin-film route is flexible panel manufacturer Sunflare. The company brought prototype four-cell solar shingles to Solar Power International 2018 and expects to have a finalized product by 2021 (as confirmed to Solar Power World). It’s unclear by looking at the prototype shingles whether the product would be installed with traditional roofing shingles or as a full roof, but Sunflare said it will focus on new roof installations.
Solar shingles and tiles
When solar shingles and solar tiles are sized to look like traditional roofing products, the result can be a more uniformly designed solarized roof. Luma Solar designs custom solar roofs, using 54-in. long and 15-in. wide, 65-W polycrystalline solar panels (or 75-W monocrystalline panels) connected together for the entire roof span. Similarly sized metal panels are used along the roof perimeter or where solar cells can’t perform. The Luma solar shingles blend in with the non-solar metal panels for a uniform look.
DeSol Power Tiles also has a solar roof but uses individual polypropylene tiles similar in shape to traditional roofing tiles. An entire roof is installed, with some of the tiles having 17-W monocrystalline solar cells embedded. The tiles are screwed to battens on the roof plywood level. The roof looks uniform in design, although the solar tiles are shinier than the solid, polymer tiles.
Hanergy is rolling out two CIGS thin-film solar tile products: the curved HanTile and the flat Thin Film Flat SOLARtile. Both are installed among other non-solar-generating tiles. The HanTile roof installation looks less obviously like solar than the flat tiles. (2020 UPDATE: Hanergy subsidiaries have been working through bankruptcies.)
Tesla’s solar roof — if we see more installations soon — is definitely the more aesthetically pleasing solar tile choice. The company is manufacturing solar cells hidden behind tempered glass, and matching non-solar tiles are used along the roofing edge. Tesla’s tiles are 14 in. long and about 8.5 in. wide, with an unknown power output. The solar tiles are manufactured in Tesla’s Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York, that it also shares with Panasonic. It’s assumed that the Solar Roof tiles use crystalline silicon cell technology from Panasonic. Similar to other true solar shingle and tile products, Tesla’s solar tiles replace an entire roof, so other, more traditional roofing tiles are not used.
Another Silicon Valley hopeful, Forward has a unique solarized roof product that isn’t solar shingles nor just deck-attached solar panels. The company claims to make what it calls “solar roof panels” — long, skinny monocrystalline silicon solar panels that (in the case of Forward’s metal roof offering) have optically enhanced glass fronts to camouflage into the roof or (in the case of Forward’s tile roof offering) have individual glass tiles over top that concentrate the sun’s rays. The solar roof panels, which have traditional aluminum frames, polymer-based backsheets and junction boxes, are about 21.5-in. wide and can be up to 18- to 20-ft long — all custom to the individual home’s roof size, Forward CEO Zach Taylor told Solar Power World. The solar panels can’t be seen from the ground, and the roof just looks like a normal metal or tile roof, with the invisible added benefit of solar generation.
It is unknown how many actual Forward solar roofs have been completed in the San Francisco Bay Area since installation began in July 2018, and no photos of the roofs are available for publication. Solar Power World did speak with the company about its solar production methods but cannot confirm if installations have been completed. Since publication of this article in April 2019, there have been multiple claims of fraud against the company.
One thing is for sure, solar customers who prefer to have integrated roof designs have plenty of options, with more on the way in the near future.
William L. Feldmann says
You should look into “Easy Roof”, which is a product that makes standard solar panels waterproof.
This product works with most 60 cell solar panels. Because of this, the cost is much lower than all other building integrated products. It also allows ventilation which means it experiences less energy losses due to heat. Every other roof product I have seen doesn’t have a way to keep the solar cells cool unless you build a false roof for ventilation purposes which adds a substantial cost.
You can get some basic info on our website at http://www.empirecleanenergy.com
Kelly Pickerel says
Is this the European product? And are you the only company distributing it in the United States?
Robyn Betterly says
Please, Please help get the word out about Forward Roofs! We, too lost our $1,000 deposit made in May…calls go directly to voicemail, calls NEVER returned…emails NEVER responded to…frustrating! Hoping Capital One will come through and refund our deposit. If not, looks like we have to get in line to sue for our refund.
Too bad, seemed like such an awesome product, we were excited to have a Forward Metal Roof!
Who do we contact about their web site still being up?
Please look into a product called Smart Flower. This is what we are going with instead of a Forward Roof. Your readers can rest assured the Smart Flower really exists…we saw it in Philly.
RICHARD FITOUSSI says
Never understood why we should give a 1000$ deposit for the needed information of details installation cost, kw per our production, battery system, and transformer.
The so call Giga factory of Tesla in Buffalo last year actually was reported to dismissed a large number of worker and chaos reigned in the factory.
The idea of photo-voltaic roof shingles is great, Mr Musk should concentrate on letting the consumer know what it cost install such system to become independent from the grid.
I would welcome complete information for a project using 27 kw/hr.
We also had an experience with that Forward Labs they are scammers! We contracted to them but failed to do the job description. We are considering to sue them.
Don’t bother suing them as they will just ignore the complaint. Instead, contact the State Contractors Licensing Board as they have already investigated Zach and Forward and as a result criminal charges have been filed against Zach. Forward is not a licensed contractor.
I had put down a $1000 deposit last July and had Zach out here last month not knowing that there were all these issues with him and the company. Luckily, I decided not to accept his contract but now I have been chasing Zach for my deposit back. Looks like there may be quite a few people that they have scammed out of their money. I will contact the State Contractors Licensing Board but if they are not licensed contractors, then I don’t know if they can do anything. But it looks like there are criminal charges, so I will reach out to Contra Costa County as well. In the meantime, word needs to get out that this company is a scam because it looks like their website is still active and therefore probably collecting more deposits.
Great, informative article. I too have been looking into 3-in-1 solar tiles and wondered if you knew anything about them.
David Joseph says
Can I invite a review of solteq.eu for what appears to be the truely functional solar tile? We welcome your research and reader comments.
Mike Elkas says
Great article. As a still-working senior with a business in northern NJ, I see solar, in some more fashionable form than now being used, as a way to significantly cut back on residential operating expenses as state real estate taxes continue to rise.
Barry Ulrich says
For a long time I have wondered when someone would come up with “chameleon” shingles. During the winter shingles would be dark (absorb sun’s rays and keep crawl space warm) and during the summer would be capable of becoming a lighter color (reflect sun’s rays and keep crawl space cooler).
Jim DeCecco says
Please review Forward Labs in your article. They are a scam solar company. They have people sign up for $1000 deposits and then don’t return the money. Forward Labs doesn’t have a Contractors License in California, plus they are involved in 3 lawsuits. As of now, they don’t have a physical address and their phones only go to recording. Your readers need to be aware of this sketchy business.
Kelly Pickerel says
Thanks, Jim. As I was unable to confirm if Forward roofs have been installed, I made sure to reference that in the article. I have been following online coverage of the company for awhile and fear you may be right. I will continue to look into their claims.
Same experience as Jim with Forward Labs.
Criminal charges have been filed against Zach.
Kelly Pickerel says
Do you have a source?
Contra Costa County. You can contact clerk’s office to get copy of the charges.
Where can one find information about the lawsuits against Forward Labs? We are also in the same boat having made a deposit. Voicemails perpetually full and emails not returned. One Twitter user said they were in contract with the company in July 2018 and had put a large sum down only to have Forward disappear. They continue to do very well in presenting their product in review magazines.
I was contacted by Zach, from Forward Roofing, earlier in the year but I did not move forward due to large amount of deposite required and why CEO is running around to make a sale to me. I also did research on Zach and found him to be a roofing guy and had complains about his company in the New York area, if I remember correctly. I called credit card company to get my money back after months of not answering their phone.
One ‘other’ complaint of the “solar tiles” is the number of piercings through the roof. Then once inside the attic of the home, some sort of raceway where the individual panels will be wired in series/parallel to get the proper voltage to the house inverter. With the larger tiles being produced now, I imagine that it is still difficult to troubleshoot a panel wiring or panel power output problem.
Look at the many ‘standard’ solar PV panel installations on roofs that have micro-inverters or conditioners attached to each panel. Devices that are individually addressable and can be monitored by a gateway one can purchase from the solar company. From a internet site one can tell which panel/converter or inverter is having a problem. A lot easier to troubleshoot than individual tiles and hard wiring. Now with packaged systems that include solar PV with energy storage, system monitoring and power use modeling will help the customer to program the best use of their solar PV with energy storage, for maximum payoff of their investment.
Kelly, this is finally exciting! Now that the marketplace has options, the competitive landscape will allow the strong to survive. The consumer will benefit. I’m still waiting to hear about O&M because if something breaks (things fall on roofs) or just doesn’t work, who’s going to fix them….
Kay Bazzett says
Do U have information on the 3in1 roof system?
CEO Carmen Bellavia- is a former roofer. He developed the product to be install friendly and extremely durable. Great guy and product, 3in1.com
Not affiliated in anyway, would love to see a good product from a small company succeed.
I tried 3in1.com and not a valid website. Any further info? Thanks,
Carol Thompson says
Great information on the panels and options but, what about the energy output and storage systems with each option. Can you point me to that information? I own a townhouse and so far haven’t been able to find a product that can power my home even though I get full direct sun. Have been told that roof area not large enough.for the number of panels needed, shingles are the answer, I’m sure but haven’t found a local company that installs them. It really is a huge untapped market, wish I had the brains and money to tap it.
Kelsey Misbrener says
Thanks, Carol. Please check out our solar-plus-storage section of the site to see if that answers some of your questions: https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/solar-storage/
Interesting subject. Can’t wait to have viable options in this area.
Hi Kelly. But you said nothing about price from these companies?
Kelly Pickerel says
You can reach out to the individual companies for pricing.