What are solar roof tiles and how do they work?

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Rooftop solar panels certainly aren’t fit for every property. Whether it’s due to the positioning of the roof, a heritage listed building or just simply the bulky, mounted panel design, some Aussies may miss out on the benefits of solar power. But there may be a solution and alternative many didn’t know existed. Enter solar tiles.

Sleek and compact with an aesthetically pleasing finish, solar tiles are causing a stir in the market, particularly as Tesla’s solar roof is about to hit Aussie shores. But, what is a solar roof tile and how does it work? In this Canstar Blue guide, we uncover the benefits of solar roof tiles as well as share some of the top brands that work with these products.

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What are solar roof tiles?

Solar roof tiles are like regular solar panels; however, they are much more compact and can be securely fitted within the roofline due to their tile-like design. Where a solar panel requires mounting and optimal positioning on the roof to be effective, solar tiles can be incorporated either on top of or among existing shingles on the roof.

Solar tiles are classified as building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) as they become a part of the roofing. There are two main types of solar roof designs that you can get: tiles or shingles.

How do solar roof tiles work?

Solar tiles work in a similar fashion to conventional photovoltaics (PV) panels in that they capture sunlight and convert it into electricity (with the help of a solar inverter). The main difference between a solar panel and a solar roof tile however, is the appearance. Where a panel is mounted to a roof, the solar tile becomes a part of the roofing, potentially making it easier to cover a larger surface area. Solar tiles can also offer the same protections as regular roofing shingles, in addition to generating solar power. With a solar tile, you might also find that they have a more visually appealing finish than a regular panel.

What are the advantages of solar roof tiles?

There are few notable advantages to using solar roof tiles. These include:

Solar tiles on the side of a roof

  • Can be used in hard-to-reach places: If you are unable to install solar panels on your property due to the positioning of your roof, you may be able to add some solar tiles to this area instead.
  • Limited damage to roof: As the tiles act as part of the roofing, you don’t need to worry about drilling holes or mounting equipment on top of the roof.
  • More protective of the roof than panels: With panels, there is the additional concern of strain on the roof during storms and strong winds. Tiles, however, become a part of the roof and protect the house.
  • Visually appealing: Roof tiles are a lot more aesthetically pleasing than mounted panels and can easily blend in with the design of the house.

Solar Plans & Prices

Some energy plans are marketed towards customers with solar panels and offer a higher feed-in tariff (FiT) than standard plans. Below, we have listed a handful of these deals available in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. Keep in mind that a higher FiT may only benefit customers who export leftover power back into the grid, in exchange for a credit on their bills.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. These are products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. These are products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. These are products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Here are some of the cheapest solar-specific deals from the retailers on our database. These costs are based on SA Power network in Adelaide but prices will vary depending on your circumstances. We show one product per retailer, listed in order of lowest price first. Annual price estimates assume general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Price estimates exclude solar feed-in tariff credits. These are products from referral partners†. Our database may not cover all deals in your area, and please check retailer websites for up to date information.

Top brands for solar roof tiles in Australia

While solar tiles are still an emerging renewable energy generation product within the industry, there are a few retailers who offer these solar solutions. Some solar tile brands include:

  1. Monier
  2. Nulok
  3. Bristile Roofing
  4. Tractile
  5. Tesla

Monier claims to have launched the first integrated solar roofing system in Australia, with its product InlineSOLAR – which is recess-mounted within the roofline. These tiles, however, are a custom fit design and can only be used in conjunction with other tiles from the Monier range.

Tractile is another prominent Australian-owned company that offers solar tiles. It uses an interlocking design, which has the added benefit of thermal solar, meaning that these tiles can also create solar hot water to be used in the home. Tractile roof tiles are also claimed to be non-corrosive, hail-proof and rated to withstand extreme winds and cold, wet climates. Tractile’s solar tiles though will also need to be used alongside other Tractile non-solar tiles.

As for Tesla, its solar tiles have only recently become available to Australians and on a reservation basis only. Tesla’s solar tiles look to follow a similar design to those mentioned above, in that they are only interlock able with other non-solar tiles from Tesla. According to the Tesla Solar Australia website though, its solar tiles are more than three times stronger than standard roofing tiles and can withstand harsh weather conditions.

Are there any disadvantages of solar roof tiles?

While there are some obvious benefits to using solar tiles over mounted panels, there are also a few potential drawbacks. Some things to consider include:

Tiler on top of roof fixing grey tiles

  • Initial cost: Being a newer technology, solar tiles are significantly more expensive than regular solar panels to install. Not only this, but they also require compatible tiling to fit onto the roof, which could become costly, depending on how much of the roof you are tiling.
  • Installations to roof: As solar tiles become a part of the roof, you may find that you will need to re-tile a large portion of the roof with both solar and non-solar tiles from the same company. This will require the work of both licensed electricians and roofing contractors.
  • Repairs and maintenance: Where solar panels are quite an established product in the solar industry, solar tiles are still breaking their ground. This means that fewer installers and solar companies will have the products or knowledge to help service, repair or maintain your tiles.
  • Efficiency dependant on surface area: The positioning and number of tiles added to a roof will very much influence the efficiency of the solar tiles. Where a solar panel mount can be re-adjusted to help improve performance, once these tiles have been placed, it will be a big effort to remove and re-lay them.

Should I install solar tiles over solar panels?

The choice between solar tiles or panels will ultimately depend on the circumstances of your property. For homeowners moving into an existing property, it may be financially viable to install a solar panel system over solar tiles, purely to avoid having to re-tile the roof. But, for those who are in the process of building a new home, it may be worthwhile considering a solar tile setup over a panel system, especially if you plan to stay at the property for a long period.

Either way, if you are keen to install solar on your rooftop, be sure to check out our ratings report below. This guide shows you which solar installation companies Aussies rate the best for customer service, set-up cost, overall satisfaction and more.

Compare Solar Installers

Image credit: Negro Elkha/Shutterstock.com, www.hollandfoto.net/Shutterstock.com, Tong_stocker/Shutterstock.com 

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