By Mandy Ellis
When homeowners consider investing in solar energy, they may arrive at an unexpected question: Should I pay more for better-looking solar panels? Before buying a solar system, review panel aesthetics, how panel cosmetics affect curb appeal and home value, and if upgrading to premium panels provides good return on investment.
What do more attractive solar panels look like?
“Solar adds value to a property, curb appeal should be considered, and over the last five years, there’s been tons of progress with solar system design aesthetics,” said Robert Sarai, business development manager at LA Solar Group in Los Angeles, Calif., “Panels typically aren’t bulky or silver and blue anymore; they’re sleeker, black-on-black, low-profile and thinner.”
Polycrystalline panels, the older design, usually have bluish hued solar cells with a silver frame, while modern monocrystalline panels come in black-on-black styles (black panels, frame, railing). You have two options to choose from: black solar cells with a white or silver backsheet that shows a light-colored diamond pattern or the top design, black solar cells with a black backsheet that shows thin white lines.
There are also the Tesla solar panels, which come in black-on-black, low-profile traditional panels and roof tiles in finishes such as textured, smooth, tuscan and slate. Compared to others, the large-scale panels are some of the most attractive black-on-black varieties, and the roof tiles are not only sharp and sophisticated, but look natural and fit in as well as a traditional roof. However, according to solar experts, the jury’s still out on whether they’re truly more efficient than other panel types.
Comparing the styles, the black-on-black monocrystalline are slightly more expensive than silver and blue, and when installed on your roof, they may look more like a skylight, says David Yoo, founder and CEO of Pingo Solar in Buena Park, Calif.
“When you have a white backsheet with black solar cells, it acts as a reflective surface and sunlight can hit the solar cell twice creating better efficiency,” he said, “However, with a black backsheet behind black solar cells, the black coloring absorbs light so even though it’s more expensive, it’s less efficient and differences [in looks] are only noticeable if you stand a foot away.”
Performance difference between products is minimal, but costs can be tremendous where black-on-black models may be 15 to 20 percent more expensive than blue-on-silver, says Haim Vagas, CEO of ArtGreen Construction in Los Angeles, Calif.
Effects of solar panel design on curb appeal and home value
Contemporary black-on-black monocrystalline panels look sleeker and blend into roofs more easily than polycrystalline silver and blue panels to increase curb appeal, which may tend to stick out and look bulky. Also, if the panels must be installed on the street-side roof, although curb appeal can be affected, the blending ability of the black-on-black installation is a positive over silver and blue panels, which may be more noticeable.
“Over time people go with what the Joneses are doing and more people are seeing solar on roofs so homeowners see the solar system in general as a positive thing,” said Ruben Ugarte, senior director of business development at Horizon Solar Power in Temecula, Calif.
If two, virtually identical homes in a cookie-cutter neighborhood were for sale, and one had black-on-black solar panels and the other, silver and blue, there’s a good chance the black installation would sell first because of better curb appeal, explains Thomas Rendon, chief executive officer/managing partner of Victoria, Texas’ Sweetwater Energy Services.
For home value, Sarai says homes with solar have more demand because for buyers, it’s a turn-key system that’s already installed and working. In fact, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found homebuyers have consistently been willing to pay more, approximately $4 per watt or $15,000 dollars extra, for homes with seller-owned solar systems. Simply having a solar array installed, regardless of looks, increases home value.
Are better-looking solar panels worth the investment?
Should you pay more for better-looking solar panels, and do these panels offer good return on investment? Solar experts are split.
“Those black panels are typically already premium panels that can produce more power and come from more reputable brands like SunPower, Panasonic and LG,” said Sarai, “But it depends on the household’s goals and objectives when it comes to going with solar energy.”
For Rendon, drawbacks are serious. “An all-black panel with a black backsheet typically is going to degrade quicker because it’ll absorb more heat over a black panel with a white or silver backsheet,” he explained, “The all-black panels are more attractive, but the black panels with white or silver backsheets will increase the panel’s lifespan.”
Vagas agrees that black panels look better on roofs; however, homeowners need to ensure every component installed is black because when aesthetics are important to you, getting the matching package helps make the system look as good as possible.