Solar Roof Tiles

Solar power is more popular in Australia today than ever before. Government rebates and incentives, as well as some generous feed-in tariff rates (although these have now been reduced for new customers), helped to boost the industry in this country. New solar panel developments are occurring all the time and one development that has many people excited are solar roof tiles. These tiles are very similar to standard roofing tiles except that they are made of photovoltaic panels – turning the whole roof (or part of a roof) into one large solar system. This is an emerging market and as such there are many misconceptions about solar roofing tiles. The following is an up-to-date guide to help you decide if solar tiles are right for your needs.

Advantages

Curved solar roof tiles

  • You can turn your whole roof (or large parts of it at least) into a solar collector.
  • No need to pay for both tiles and solar panels. Less materials are used when constructing a home.
  • Can be used on almost any structure and the strength of the roof is not an issue because there are no racks to install.
  • More likely to be protected from strong winds.
  • Most people find that they are more aesthetically pleasing than traditional solar panels.

Disadvantages

  • Wiring each tile is time consuming and adds to the cost.
  • The efficiency of solar roof tiles is generally reduced when compared to a standard solar panel.
  • Roof integrated solar panels can get very hot without adequate ventilation and this can lead to problems with efficiency.

Types of Solar Tiles

TypeDescription
Roof tilesThese tiles are a replacement for regular solar panels. They can be used just like a standard roof tile and can be installed on new buildings or as a replacement for existing tiles. They are still subject to the same limitations as standard solar panels and the orientation of your roof remains very important. Each panel produces a relatively small amount (most produce somewhere from 20-50W each) so you will need many tiles to create a large solar system.
Integrated panels These panels are mounted flush with the roof (instead of being installed on racks). Some people find that these are preferable to a standard solar panel install, but this type of installation generally costs more because the tiles have the be removed and replaced with solar panels. It is for this reason that this type of install is most common in new homes.
Flat roof tilesThese are sometimes referred to as solar tiles, but they are actually a specially designed solar panel system for a flat roof.

Viability of Solar Tiles

Flat solar tiles installed on a roof.The market for solar tiles remains very small because most people choose the cheaper option of a standard solar system. Solar tiles are far more expensive in terms on initial cost and installation, although this cost difference is somewhat reduced for new homes. They remain very popular with heritage properties as they are more aesthetically pleasing and this factor should not be dismissed. There are many improvements being made to photovoltaic panels, including solar tiles, and this option may eventually become the standard in the industry. However, the standard solar panel installation will remain the dominant force in the renewable energy sector for some time to come. In the majority of cases a standard solar install suits most situations and costs less as well.

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Portable Solar Panels for Camping

flexible camping solar panelsThe type of power generation you use while camping is one of the most important considerations you can make, especially if you are spending a considerable amount of time away from home. Generators were once the only viable option, but today portable camping solar panels have become affordable for everyday use. Coupled with a battery system and inverter you can power to almost any device you bring with you. However, choosing the right solar panel and accessories can be a difficult decision to make. Many people make this mistake of thinking that all solar panels and accessories are equal, but nothing could be further from the truth. The following guide will help you understand more about choosing a solar panel for your next camping trip.

Camping solar panel kits

A solar camping kit is an all-in-one package designed to have you generating power without any additional accessories. They usually come with a solar panel (a folding solar panel is most common in camping kits), regulator, all the required electrical connections and wiring, stand and a carry kit. All that you will need to provide is a 12v battery and inverter if you want to power AC appliances, and some manufacturers even include these in their kits for a total package solution.

Create your own solar panel system

Those with experience in solar/battery technology, or those with the time to put in hours of research, may want to construct their own portable solar panel system. This is a good alternative because you only need to purchase what you will use and you can usually put a kit together for cheaper than an all-in-one package. This is a good option for those that enjoy DIY projects and all you need to get started is a folding solar panel . You can build your own frame to save even more money.

What you need to know when choosing a solar panel for camping

The following are the most important things to consider when choosing a camping solar panel system.

The type and size of the panel

Ideally you should select a panel that is designed to charge a 12 volt battery. Judging the size of panel that you require depends on your intended energy usage. You should conduct an energy audit. A simple way to do this is to find the watts used by each appliance and then multiply this by the hours it will be used per day. This gives you the daily watt hour rating. Then divide this number by the average number of peak sun hours for a rough calculation of required watts.

Panel mounting options

Panels can be directly mounted to a caravan or vehicle, but most campers opt for portable panels that are free standing. This means that they can be moved to capture the most amount of sun.

Portability

The best camping solar panels are foldable, which makes for easier storage. They are also relatively lightweight so they can be setup and moved into place easily. Some manufacturers now make flexible solar panels, which are becoming more popular with campers.

Battery type

fullriver agm battery (115 AH)You cannot expect that any 12 volt battery will work with continual deep discharge, in fact it is the fastest way to kill a standard car battery. Ideally, you want a deep cycle battery that is rated in Amp Hours (AH). A deep cycle battery is designed to be charged and discharged often and will last several years with proper use. The best batteries for this type of use are AGM batteries, which are fully sealed and cope well with the charge-discharge cycle and even the occasional over discharge. However, as a general rule this battery should never be discharged further than 70% of capacity. A great alternative to the AGM are LiFePO4 (lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries that have the added benefit of being far lighter and coping with even deeper discharge. This main reason these are not more popular is that they cost more than 3 times as much as AGM batteries!

Battery capacity

In general, the higher the rated Amp Hours the better. You need to ensure you have a battery capable of providing enough power for each day as well as being able to cope with additional days without charging if you are on the road or when the weather is not conducive to solar generation. You can use two batteries in series for a 24 volt system or two batteries in parallel for a 12 volt system with additional amp hours. Many people choose a two battery system because it provides a backup if a battery becomes faulty.

Regulator and Inverter

We recommend a solar regulator (charge controller) for all camping solar panels above 10 watts. An inverter is only necessary if you plan on running AC appliances. A pure sine wave inerter is the best option, but is also more expensive than other inverters. Using an inverter is not 100% efficient and you should calculate for about 20% power loss.

Our recommendation

A solar panel on a custom stand.If you are new to solar power and want a simple kit to get started then a Suntech Freedom kit is our top pick. They come with everything you need and have a very good reputation in the industry. They are covered by a 25 year warranty (the regulator has a 5 year warranty) so you can expect that this kit will continue to perform well for many years of camping. They come in a range of sizes and capacities from 20 watt through to 140 watt. The 80, 120 and 140 watt kits are also available in 24 volt configuration. We currently recommend AGM batteries, but LiFePO4 is the best option if you can afford it.

Paul Sawyer is a camping and outdoor expert. He runs a number of well regarded websites in this area such as

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    Sourcing Cheap Solar Panels

    Whether it be a backyard project or a full solar install, many people attempt to source cheap solar panels. These discount solar panels come in many forms, from kits for DIY creations through to complete systems. There are also other ways of saving money on solar panels, such as purchasing direct from the manufacturer, buying in bulk (a group buy is commonly used) or purchasing used/second hand solar panels. The following guide will give you some ideas for sourcing cheap solar panels so that you can save money without compromising on quality.

    Cheap New Solar Panels

    New solar panels.New solar panels are very rarely offered with a discount, but there are still ways to save money when buying solar panels. As with any purchase, it is important that you carefully research the panels to ensure that they are good quality and come with an appropriate warranty. You should become familiar with solar panel specifications such as power tolerance, module efficiency and temperature coefficient. It is also a good idea to read as many reviews as possible so that you are aware of any potential issue/s with the panels/manufacturer. It is also important to factor shipping costs and insurance into your budget.

    Direct from the manufacturer

    Many solar panel manufacturers offer to sell their panels direct to the public. This is a great way to save money because it cuts out the middle man. You are still covered by the full warranty and support offered by the manufacturer. The downside to this method is that you will need to pay for shipping and insurance which can be expensive for a bulky item. You also need to carefully research the panels and the company to ensure that the offer is legitimate and that they are selling a quality product.

    Factory seconds/refurbished

    Factory seconds and refurbished solar panels are like new, but may have a minor defect or fault. In many cases the shipping carton has been damaged and the actual panel is in perfect condition. These panels are far cheaper, but are often offered with limited or no warranty and support.

    Bulk buy discount (group buy)

    Another great way to save money is to get together with other people are purchase a bulk order of solar panels. A bulk order will receive a discount and the cost of each panel is substantially reduced. The downside of this method is organising other interested people (and making sure they pay their share on time) and managing the transaction.

    Second Hand/Used Solar Panels

    A used solar panel with minor damageSecond hand and used solar panels are also a great way of sourcing cheap solar panels. However, it can be difficult to source enough used panels for a whole house solar system so this option is best for those with smaller solar projects. In addition to this, it is important to remember that a full solar system must be installed and connected by a qualified electrician. In our experience we have found that many electricians will not install a second hand system if you are planning on connecting them to the grid.

    Things to consider when buying used panels

    Used solar panels are a viable way to source cheap solar panels for a project or home energy production use. However, it is important that you take the following considerations into account when making a purchase.

    The age of the panel

    The age of the panel will affect its production. This is especially true for thin film panels. A PV panel can degrade as much as 1% per year.

    The type of panel

    Try to source a monocrystaline or polycrystalline panel because they are not as badly affected by the age of the panel.

    The condition of the panel

    Is the panel in good condition? You should check for any hairline cracks or chipping (see the photo above). You should also check the seals because once moisture gets into a panel it begins to degrade the performance. Also be on the lookout for any signs of oxidisation.

    Its performance

    It is a good idea to test the panel if you are able to. Check for any voltage drops throughout the day. This can point to corrosion or damage and you should avoid any panel that doesn’t appear to be working properly unless you have the skills (and patience) to fix them. It is a good idea to have the panels professional tested where possible.

    Has it been used in a marine setting

    The saltwater environment is harsh on solar panels (or any electronics for that matter). It is best to avoid any panel that has been used on a boat or other marine setting.

    Sourcing used panels

    There are a number of places to search for used solar panels. One of the best ways is to search online auction and classified sites such as eBay and Gumtree. You can find almost anything this way, from single panels through to complete off-grid systems! Another great option is to ask around at your local road city and government departments or equipment hire company. Many of the roadside signs and lighting utilise solar panels and they often discard broken or damaged solar panels. These can often be repaired to produce a fully functioning panel. You can also contact solar installers in your area as they sometimes have spare panels that have been removed from buildings or replaced due to age, warranty or damage. Retailers often receive damaged panels that you can purchase and repair for the fraction of the price of a new panel. You could also advertise in your local classifieds, community notice board or online portal so that others know you are on the lookout for used solar panels.

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    A Solar Carport Or Garage Install

    A home solar installation is a great way to reduce your power bill and is also one of the most environmentally friendly sources of power. In most cases a solar system is installed on the roof of a house, but solar carport or garage installs are also very popular. These installs can require a little more planning and procedure than a standard install, but the potential advantages outweigh the drawbacks. As with any type of solar install it is important to consult a professional before conducting any install.

    Potential advantages

    Additional space for solar panelsA carport or garage roof is a great place for a full solar install or to add to your existing solar system.
    An alternative to difficult house installThere are some cases where a house is not suitable for a traditional solar install. For example, a double story house can cause headaches for a solar install and add to the budget, but a garage or carport install is much more manageable.
    A specially designed spaceIf you do not currently have a carport/garage you can actually have it designed and built with a specific thought to your solar panel install. This means you can create the best roof pitch and direction for your solar panels. There is also the option of using solar panels in on a specially designed lattice system as a complete replacement for a standard roof!
    Electric vehicle chargingThis is a niche area, but some electric vehicles can be charged by solar panels and what better place to place these panels than on the carport or garage roof!

    A new carport

    a solar carport with panels on the roof.Incorporating the use of solar panels in a new carport design is one of the best ways to create an alternative household solar install. This type of carport is constructed in a similar way to a traditional carport, but instead of a standard roof being added to the design a series of solar panels is attached to the frame to act like a roof of the structure. This not only provides power from the sun, but it also protects your vehicle from the elements. The main downside of this type of carport is that it requires a special design and cannot be built from an “off-the-shelf” design. Another potential concern is the cost of this type of carport, which is considerably higher than a traditional carport. However, a traditional carport does not create power from the sun! As with any new building project you need to make sure it meets all building codes and ensure you have local government approval.

    Installing Solar Panels on an existing Carport or Garage

    It is certainly possible to install solar panels on a carport or garage, but whether this is a viable option does depend on a number of factors. It is a good idea to have a qualified solar installer inspect your property and give you a professional opinion/report regarding the viability of this option. The first thing you need to consider is the direction that the carport faces and whether it receives full or partial sun. You also need to know whether any trees, buildings or other structures throw shadows onto the roof of your carport/garage. In addition to this the pitch of the roof is also an important factor. The roof area of most carports is built flat or with only a slight incline. If this is the case then a greater pitch may be required by using a specially built frame to install the solar panels. Lastly, and most importantly, you must ensure that your carport is built to accept the weight of the solar panels and that you receive proper local government approval for the install. Many people plan on having solar panels installed on their carport/garage, but end up discovering that it is not a viable option.

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