The viability of solar energy as a major game changer in the way we power our society has been a hotly contested debate for a long time. Contentious as it may be, many suspect that it’s not necessarily the technology that is being called into question as much as it is the fact that entire economies around the world rely on oil (the implication being that as long as corporations continue to make money off of crude, the more resistance there’ll be switching to a sustainable energy source).

In spite of this, the number of projects and business ventures looking to absolve us of our dependence on a quickly depleting resource continue to increase in number. Take for example one of the most forward thinking visionaries of our time, Elon Musk. Though perhaps best known for his involvement in bringing Tesla Motors – a car manufacturer that not only produces all electric vehicles, but also openly shares its patents with competitors to facilitate the mass production of even more zero emission cars – to fruition, Musk is also investing in the kind of technologies that promise to improve the lives of millions. One needs only look at his recent acquisition of solar shingle producer SolarCity Corp to be convinced.

What are Solar Shingles?

If you’re wondering what exactly a solar shingle is, and how it differs from the kind of solar panels homeowners and businesses have been installing for years, you’re not alone.

Like the run of the mill bolt-on solar panel, solar shingles use photovoltaic cells to, in simple terms, harness the sun’s energy so that it can be converted to electricity using an inverter. Where solar shingles differ however is in their installation and functionality. For instance, where panels are heavy and difficult to install, solar shingles are thin and integrate with asphalt roofing shingles. Since they first appeared on the market back in 2005, these shingles have come down dramatically in price, making them a much more compelling solution for a homeowner that’s already in the process of re-tiling their roof.

Traditional solar panels require experienced installers to install the system; not so with solar shingles. The newest generation of solar shingles snap together, are wireless, and can be installed by just about any roofing contractor. Inch for inch, shingles represent a much wiser investment over conventional solar panels, as replacing defective tiles is easier and homeowners can still expect to save an estimated 40% to 70% on their monthly electricity bills. Best of all, excess energy can be sold back to the grid, and many state/provincial and federal governments offer strong, head turning incentives to those that choose to install them, providing a further financial nudge to people still on the fence.

With any “new” technology, particularly the kind of technology that could cost the average homeowner upwards of $20,000 to install, there’s obviously some trepidation as to whether or not these products will be around for the long term; a consideration that compels one to wonder how easy it will be to find someone to service them alongside a typical roof repair, and whether or not they will continue to be manufactured by a number of different companies, allowing economies of scale to further drive the price down. Thankfully, the market outlook for solar shingles is looking remarkably bright.

The Solar Shingles Market

In 2016 alone, it’s estimated that the solar market in the United States will grow by close to 120%. Also, solar currently accounts for 26% of the electricity generated in the U.S. between January and July of this year. These figures alone however are not enough to provide compelling evidence as to the longevity of the technology.

What we need to look at is the rising increase in consumer demand for electricity and the current system’s inability to meet this demand unaided, not to mention the unprecedented rise in global warming. Given these concerns, it seems highly unlikely to even the most casual observer that solar power and other alternative technologies won’t be around long term.

One final way to determine the market prospect of this technology is to examine the growth of the photovoltaic integration of new building developments, meaning the number of new construction projects where this technology is becoming standard. Though only worth $3 billion in 2015, the building-integrated PV market is expected to be worth $26 billion globally by 2022 – so it’s safe to say that investing in solar shingles now is a smart choice.