A solar cell roof is called “building integrated”, also known by the more complete name “building integrated photovoltaic” (BIPV). BIPV suggests that you would have needed that part of the structure built anyway, and you’ve chosen to use material that will also serve the purpose of generating power through solar energy. The first advantage of solar cell shingles or panels on the roof is obvious: some of the initial
In some parts of the world, often due to government subsidies, many new houses are built with solar roofs. Until recently, this was not the case in the U.S., UK, and much of Europe because the cost remained prohibitive. However, with the invention of what is called “thin film solar technology”, solar roofing tiles, panels and shingles have become easier to fabricate and work with and are much more aesthetically pleasing. This technology is best for pitched roofs where shingles or small tiles are the norm. Large flat roofs, such as the tops of many commercial buildings, can have one giant layer of solar film, or large integrated panels.
Solar cell roofs can be hooked up in two ways – on and off the grid. Off the grid solar power means that you will use the energy you gain from the solar panels and either not be connected at all to the electric company or connected in a way that is completely parallel and unrelated. Off grid applications might be appropriate for houses that are far from electric power lines but get enough sunlight to be completely solar, houses with combination systems with other renewable energy systems, or houses in places that get little sun so it would be unlikely that the solar power generated would ever be more than the house requires. On grid systems are hooked in with your conventional electric supply, and when the solar power system generates more electricity than you need, it actually sells it back to the power company. Your meter literally spins backwards and you can get a zero bill or even a check in the mail instead of a bill.
There is some debate among real estate developers, but the general rule is that any renewable energy source for the home pays off if it returns your original installation investment in ten years or less through energy savings. The invention and perfection of integrated thin film solar roofs has led to us rapidly approaching that return, and possibly even outdistancing it depending on where you live.
There are four things to consider when looking into a solar cell roof:
1. How much sun does your area get each year, independent of the outside temperature?
2. Where does your roof face – ideally it would face east/west of it is a slanted roof?
3. What is the cost now, and projected cost of electricity where you are?
4. What is the general attitude of home buyers in your area to renewables (especially if you might sell your home within 10 years)?