What are solar tiles and are they better than solar panels? 

Solar tiles or solar shingles are small photovoltaic modules that look like normal roof tiles. They are also sometimes called rackless solar systems because there are no racks of panels. Tiles can be used instead of solar panels where aesthetics are important. However, they are not suitable for retrofitting, according to Spirit Energy, and so are more suitable for new build properties. 

The tiles are made of two types of material; they can be monocrystalline solar cells or thin film photovoltaic cells. Thin film PV solar tiles are more efficient than monocrystalline solar cells. They also cost less initially, and although they may not last as long as traditional solar panels, the payback time is less, say Green Match. The tiles are available from a few firms in the UK including GB Sol, Solecco and Nulock and their use is growing.  

Solar tiles available in the UK

GB Sol solar ‘slates’ are an attractive blue-grey slate. They’re made of toughened glass and aluminium and they are warrantied for 25 years. They’ve also been tested to ensure they can withstand the rigours of UK weather and are MCS certified. MCS certification is required for smart meter export tariffs and EPC ratings. 

XO solar tiles are made of construction grade recycled plastic. They are fully recyclable and have 9.5x less embodied carbon per m2 than solar panels or conventional tiles. Within six months of use, they are carbon negative, says XO. They are designed for aesthetics with a textured matt finish. 

Nulock Integrated Solartrix solar inserts look like small solar panels. They are very unobtrusive and sit flush with the roof tiles around them. They’ve improved efficiency by up to 20% and these solar tiles can be retrofitted into an existing roof. 

Why choose solar tiles?

Solar tiles are a new technology and the cost is currently high. According to Solar Guide, they cost between three and four times as much as standard solar panels. Solar panels are expected to be more efficient than tiles with up to 22% efficiency. In comparison, tiles range between 10%-20%. More efficient solar panels will recoup the initial investment more quickly and, as we have seen, they cost less to install initially. In addition, they can be retrofitted onto an existing roof.

Solar panels are well tested and we know they last for twenty to twenty five years. Solar tiles are, as yet, untested. They may well increase in efficiency and longevity as the new technology is developed. Solar panels can also be adjusted in angle to catch the most light, while tiles are angled at the pitch of the rooftop. 

One issue with solar panels is the vacant space between the panel and rooftop can catch debris or become a nesting space for birds and animals. Solar tiles are less obtrusive than solar panels are. A potential solution to this problem with panels is to embed them into the roof so they are flush with the surface. These are called in-roof panels. 

The main reason for installing solar tiles seems to be aesthetics. The property owner will have to decide whether it is worth the additional cost, lower efficiency and shorter lifetime. 

Blue Patch members are constantly innovating new sustainable technology. We work to introduce members through networking, events and community projects to find new opportunities. Join today.

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.