Solar tiles are the most attractive and durable way to go solar – if you can afford them
Solar roof tiles look like normal roof tiles, but work like solar panels to generate electricity for your home. They’re a brilliant solution for anyone who likes the economic and environmental benefits of solar, but isn’t so keen on the look of panels – or is unconvinced that their roof will support the weight.
The main catch with solar roof tiles is their price. It currently costs three or four times as much for a solar tile system as for a panel system of the same wattage. What’s more, you would need to have all your roof tiles replaced rather than just having a few solar tiles added. Getting solar roof tiles basically means getting a solar roof.
But solar roof tiles are extremely durable, so you would be investing in a long-lasting new roof as well as a solar PV system. Tile systems come with extensive guarantees that could give you free electricity for decades, as well as making your roof stronger and more attractive.
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How do solar roof tiles work?
Solar tiles work just like solar PV (photovoltaic) panels: they capture sunlight and convert it into electricity that you can use in your home. The main difference is that solar tiles look like normal roof tiles.
Solar roof tiles are available in a few different styles and sizes. Most are slate-look glass and aluminium tiles with embedded PV cells, designed to merge perfectly with a new slate roof and be indistinguishable from ground level. Red solar tiles are a little more conspicuous, but still much more subtle than a solar panel array.
Why should I get solar roof tiles?
As well as generating renewable electricity for your home, solar roofs look great. Solar panels are not to everyone’s taste, and there will be people – such as your neighbours, or the people you want to sell your house to one day – who prefer the look of a tiled solar roof.
Solar tiles are particularly good for listed buildings or homes in conservation areas. These properties are among the few that require planning permission for solar panels, so opting for tiles instead may be your only way to switch to solar.
Solar tiles are also incredibly tough: more durable than solar panels or normal roof tiles. Tesla, which dropped kettlebells on its solar tiles to prove their strength, claims that its tiles are three times tougher than non-solar roof tiles. Tesla’s tiles aren’t available in the UK yet, despite Elon Musk’s assurances that they would be available here in 2018, then 2019, but we’ll keep you posted.
READ NEXT: Our guide to solar panel sizes
How are solar roof tiles installed?
As mentioned above, you can’t just swap a few old roof tiles for solar tiles. The installer will replace a certain area of your roof with solar tiles (depending on how big you want the system to be), and then replace the rest of your roof with matching non-solar tiles.
It’s a big and expensive job. It also takes significantly longer than solar panel installation, up to two weeks compared with one to two days for solar panels. But if you were thinking of switching to solar and were also considering having your roof re-tiled anyway, solar tiles would be a good option.
READ NEXT: How are solar panels installed?
How much do solar roof tiles cost?
A solar roof tile system costs around three times as much as a standard solar panel system of around the same power: about £5,000 versus £15,000 on average.
In our article exploring the cost of solar panels in the UK, we revealed that a typical 3.5kW solar panel system in 2023 costs £5,500, according to Energy Saving Trust figures. By way of comparison, the sustainability specialists at The Eco Experts have worked out that a 3.5kW solar roof tile system costs an average £14,550 – nearly three times as much.
Installation also costs more, so overall you’re looking at up to four times the price of a standard solar panel installation.
A 3.5kW system is big enough to power the average UK household, but some homes will need smaller or bigger systems that cost less or more than average. Here’s what The Eco Experts reckon different size homes would pay for a system of solar roof tiles:
|Solar PV system size
|Cost of solar tiles
|1 bedroom flat
|1-2 bedroom house
|3 bedroom house
|4+ bedroom house
*Figures June 2023 The Eco Experts
Why are solar tiles so expensive?
Solar tiles are a relatively new innovation in the solar energy world. The type of solar PV cells they use are produced much less widely than those used in standard solar panels.
What’s more, the UK has far fewer manufacturers and providers of solar tiles than of solar panels, so there’s less competition among them. This limits the number of models produced and keeps consumer prices high.
As mentioned above, installation is also a more difficult and specialist process than with solar panels. Instead of simply installing panels on a frame on your existing roof, the installers effectively have to install a whole new roof on your home, and also wire each individual tile to the required standard. That all drives up costs significantly.
Are solar roof tiles better than solar panels?
Solar roof tiles are somewhat less efficient than solar panels. The efficiency rating of a typical solar panel is 20%, which means it’s capable of converting 20% of the sunshine hitting it into electricity. The most efficient solar panels can reach 23%. Solar tiles, however, rate between 10% and 20%.
The first reason for this is that solar roof tiles aren’t as well ventilated as solar panels. As we explain in our roundup of the best solar panels you can buy in the UK, solar PV cells thrive on light, not heat. The air can circulate easily around frame-mounted solar panels, but solar tiles are attached directly to your roof and are more likely to overheat.
The second reason is angle. With solar panels, it’s easy to install them on a frame to achieve the best angle (35 degrees) and direction (south) to capture maximum light. But with tiles, they have to be installed at the angle and direction of your roof, which may not be ideal.
READ NEXT: Best direction for solar panels
What are the best solar panel roof tiles I can buy?
Your choices are limited in the UK, especially with Tesla’s delayed launch. Your best bet is a home-grown manufacturer such as Wales-based GB-SOL or London-based XO Edge. These companies also sell identical (and cheaper) non-solar tiles for completing the rest of your roof.
Best tough solar tile for slate roofs: GB-SOL PV Slate
These lightweight natural blue slate-look solar tiles fit seamlessly into a new natural slate roof. Each toughened glass and aluminium slate comes with a 25-year warranty. Unusually, GB-SOL reveals prices upfront without making you apply for a quote: the slates cost £294/m², which equals £8,449 for a 4kW system (around £2,112/kW). Installation is an extra £2,200.
Most environmentally friendly solar tile: XO Solar Tiles
XO Edge uses construction-grade recycled plastic to manufacture its dark grey solar tiles, which contain up to 10 times less embodied carbon than roof tiles or solar panels and become carbon negative after six months. So if environmental concerns are your biggest reason to switch to solar, this is the tile to go for. XO says you need 84 of its 1.4kg tiles to generate 1kW of energy.
Best solar tile for red roofs: Crest Planum PV Red Solar Tile
This new solar tile from Crest is designed to fit perfectly next to the company’s non-solar red roof tiles. Their clip system makes them relatively easy to install, and they come with an impressive 30-year guarantee.
Best solar panel to blend with roof tiles: Marley SolarTile
Marley SolarTiles are not really solar roof tiles, but small solar panels designed to fit flush with your roof tiles. Despite sitting in your roof rather than on a frame that lets the air circulate, these panels still boast a good efficiency rating of 20.7%.
Should I buy solar roof tiles?
If you don’t mind the expense, the lengthy installation and the lack of choice over models and suppliers, then certainly include solar roof tiles in your options. Your roof will look fabulous and generate energy for many decades.
But after exploring the current UK market for solar tiles, we think you’re better off with panels. The price and efficiency of solar tiles will eventually improve as more manufacturers enter the market, but for now panels are a better investment.
Use our free quote-finder tool to find a solar panel installer near you, and discover how much money you could save over a lifetime of slashed electricity bills.