Solar Panels vs. Thin-Film Laminates: Costs, Pros & Cons, Top Brands

This is an interesting time to consider adding a solar power system to your home because solar energy is no longer getting cheaper (due to a broader and ongoing price inflation), while the range of available solar options for homes is continuing to expand. Today, your options are no longer limited to the traditional photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

Global Solar thin film panels on a standing seam metal roof. Source: Global Solar

Thanks to the advancements in solar technology, you can now opt for the so-called thin-film solar panel laminates designed to adhere to standing seam metal panels or to flat roof surfaces (membranes) like PVC, TPO, EPDM Rubber, without the need for any roof penetrations. Thin film panels feature peel-and-stick adhesive that eliminates the need to drill holes in the roof.

What’s in this guide: This guide compares innovative thin-film (TF) photovoltaic laminates to traditional PV solar panels with respect to balance of system (BOS) costs, pros and cons, available options, and more.

Did you know? The cost of residential solar energy panels has dropped by over 50% since 2010. The current average cost of a residential PV solar panel system hovers between $2.80 and $3.50 per installed watt. This is before the 26% tax credits from the federal government. Note that solar investment tax credits (ITC) will be reduced to 22% in 2023, the last year of the program.

US PV solar system pricing by market segment. Source: Wood Mackenzie 

For example, today, a typical 6kW PV solar panel system costs approximately $18,000-$19,440 before the applicable federal tax credits and local incentives are applied.

Before we break down residential PV solar system options, this table offers a quick comparison.

Type Cost per Watt Efficiency Average 6kW System Cost
Polycrystalline $2.80-$3.00 13% to 17% $17,400
Monocrystalline $3.00-$3.50 17% to 22% $19,000
Thin film Panels $2.00-$3.00 10% to 18% $17,000

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Tesla Solar Roof Shingles vs. Traditional Solar Panels: What You Need to Know

Tesla has become a household name in many parts of the world, and you have probably read or heard about their solar roof shingles. They can be described as miniature photovoltaic panels that look more like the traditional asphalt shingles, and many homeowners prefer this look.

via Tesla SolarRoof

If you’re trying to decide between a Tesla solar roof and a traditional solar panel system, this buying guide will help you compare both options.

First, there is a very important difference between solar roof shingles and conventional solar panels.

  • Solar roof shingles are the combination of two products. They serve as a roof for your home, but they also generate electricity.
  • Solar panels are separate components that are installed on top of your roof, using the right type of racking system.

This difference has a very important implication for homeowners. Solar panels can be installed on almost any roof, as long as the structure is capable of carrying their weight. However, you replace your existing roof completely when using Tesla solar shingles, and this makes the project more expensive.

Based on upfront costs and return on investment, traditional solar panels are the recommended option for most homeowners. However, a Tesla solar roof can make sense financially if you’re planning to build a new home with solar panels, since you haven’t spent on a roof yet and you have the chance to combine two building elements.

Solar roof shingles are also viable economically if you have an old roof that will need replacement soon. Just keep in mind that delivery times can be long, due to the growing popularity of Tesla products in general.

Of course, personal preference is also important when deciding between different products. Installing a Tesla solar roof is a great option if you don’t like the appearance of solar panels, or if you’re loyal to the brand and prefer their products. However, keep in mind that Tesla also installs traditional solar panels as an alternative to solar tiles, and their price tag is much lower.

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Rooftop Solar Panel System Cost per Watt in 2022: 5kW-7kW, 6kW-8kW

This is a good time to install a photovoltaic solar power system on your property. Residential rooftop PV solar panels cost per watt installed has been dropping and newer technology is enabling a far greater efficiency – that’s more solar energy converted into electricity for home usage – for less money.

A new asphalt shingle roof outfitted with PV solar panels

Your options for buying, leasing, Purchasing Power Agreements (PPA, see below) are expanding, and many homeowners are getting solar panels installed on their rooftops for zero down.

In this guide:

  1. Cost per Watt
  2. Total System Cost
  3. Cost Factors
  4. Rooftop Installation Considerations
  5. PV Solar Panels
  6. Buying, Leasing, and PPA Options
  7. BiPV Solar Tiles
  8. Thin-Film Solar Laminates
  9. PACE Solar Finance Program
  10. Solar System Payback Period

Cost per Watt

The national average residential solar cost per watt installed is $3.10 for a typical 5kW (approximately $15,500) to 7kW (approximately $21,700) PV solar panels system when installed by local installers, before the 26% solar investment tax credits from the federal government.

Did you know? The 26% solar tax credits have recently been extended by congress through the end of 2022. Notably, solar ITC apply to the full amount paid for the installation of a new solar panels system.

Depending on the state you live in, your quoted cost per watt can range from $2.78 to $3.40, on average, when installed by a (small) local solar panel installer, before the 26% federal tax rebate.

Note that solar investment tax credits (ITC) are being phased out, gradually, with the amount of tax credits decreasing from 26% to 22% in 2023 (the final year for solar ITC).

How Solar Pricing Has Decreased Over Time In 2008, the cost of a solar power installation was $8.82 per watt.

Average System Cost for residential PV Solar Panels installed by Local Installers:

Small Home Average Home Large Home
Home Size 1 – 2 bedrooms 3 – 4 bedrooms 5 bedrooms
System Size 5 – 7kW 7 – 8.5kW 9 – 10kW
System Cost $15,300 to $21,420 $21,420 to $26,010 $27,540 to $30,600
After Tax Credits $11,322 to $15,850 $15,850 to $19,247 $20,380 to $22,644

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