For the Shingle Set

Love the idea of going solar but hate the look of those shiny black boxes on the roof? New solar cells designed to look and perform like shingles and roof tiles offer aesthetes who want to go solar a welcome alternative.

Instead of solar panels, Dow Powerhouse Solar System 2.0 shingles are installed along with asphalt shingles on your roof. The company says that a typical system size ranges from 2 to 4 kilowatts. (Unfortunately, Dow announced on July 1 that it would stop making these shingles.)

Certain­Teed’s Apollo II solar shingles come in all-black shingle and tile styles and take the place of roofing in the areas they are installed. Both brands qualify for the federal tax credit, along with other state and local rebates and incentives.

A third product: Solarmass Energy Group’s Ergosun tiles (above) are installed the same way as traditional concrete or terra-cotta tiles. They’re available in other countries, and the company hopes to enter the U.S. market in the near future.

Full Transparency

Ubiquitous Energy, an MIT startup, has developed ClearView Power technology, a fully transparent solar cell that could soon be placed over the screens of computers, smartphones, e-readers, and tablets to provide solar power without adding bulk or affecting readability. The company plans one day to be able to power entire buildings by installing windows made of the transparent solar cell technology.

More Powerful Panels

Most rooftop solar panels are made from crystalline silicon cells, which typically convert only 16 to 21 percent of the sunlight to which they’re exposed into energy. One possible alternative to improve efficiency is perovskite solar cells. But because the saltlike crystalline structure of perovskite tends to break down in humidity, researchers are seeking to stack them on top of silicon solar cells to improve overall panel efficiency. But don’t hold your breath—marketable products might be at least five years away.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.