Integrating Solar Cells into Ceramic Roof Tiles
Michael Alba posted on October 19, 2016 |
ZEP B.V.’s solar roof tiles after installation. The company is also developing a red version. (Image courtesy of ZEP B.V.)
ZEP B.V.’s solar roof tiles after installation. The company is also developing a red version. (Image courtesy of ZEP B.V.)
Solar panels are becoming increasingly lucrative in commercial markets, exemplified by electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer Tesla’s recent offer to acquire solar-panel company SolarCity. But there are still some factors standing in the way of widespread consumer adoption, and one of the less obvious ones (to me, at least) is that some homeowners are concerned about the aesthetics of their solar rooftops.

Now, instead of the typical black panels that some consider an eyesore, Dutch company ZEP B.V. is offering an alternative: solar roof tiles that look like regular roof tiles.


Invisible Solar Energy

The point of a solar panel is to absorb as much sunlight as possible in order to create the most amount of energy, which is why solar panels are black or dark blue–they’re absorbing most of the visible spectrum.

But it turns out that not everyone is into the flat black look of current panels. In fact, solar panels are actually prohibited in certain places for that exact reason.

In Denmark, for example, a lot of houses have red rooftops and in order to preserve this aesthetic, homeowners aren’t allowed to have solar panels installed. This same concern applies to historic or iconic buildings around the world.

ZEP B.V. is addressing this problem with its solar cell roof tiles. Instead of installing solar panels onto existing roof tiles, the company manufactures ceramic roof tiles with integrated solar cells to make the original vision for the roof compatible with solar technology.

The solar roof tiles measure 487 x 296 mm (roughly 19 x 12 inches) and incorporate mono-crystalline solar cells of 156 x 156 mm (roughly 6 x 6 inches). The efficiency is advertised as 18.49 percent, which stacks up reasonably well compared to the standard black panel efficiency of around 20 percent (you can find a full list of specs here).

While more aesthetically-pleasing solar cells are a good idea, ZEP B.V. aren’t the first ones to think of it. The Centre Suisse d'Electronique et Microtechnique (CSEM) was offering colored solar panels two years ago, but at a cost of significantly reduced efficiency and a two-to-five-fold increase in price. Another company, Sistine Solar, offers highly customizable solar panels that match the look of any roof while maintaining a 15-17 percent efficiency.

Regardless, the more the merrier, and ZEP B.V.’s solar-integrated roof tiles offer an additional advantage: they’re a space-efficient solution to rooftops constrained by obstacles like chimneys and skylights.

The solar roof tiles work around obstacles like chimneys and skylights. (Image courtesy of ZEP B.V.)
The solar roof tiles work around obstacles like chimneys and skylights. (Image courtesy of ZEP B.V.)
"A lot of people have been waiting for this," said Joost de Graaf of ZEP B.V. "For instance people who think solar panels on their rooftops are ugly. This solar tile combines the shape of a roof tile with the benefits of solar panels. This is the solar energy of the future."

For more from the world of solar and renewable energy, check out Tesla Sells 80 MWh Battery Bank to Edison.

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