I got this information from The Technology Review at MIT. According to the Review, United Solar Ovonic of Auburn Hills, MI, has teamed with a major roofing company to create a metal roof system that generates electricity from sunlight. This is an effort to promote the widespread adoption of solar technology based upon a theory that integrating solar cells into building materials could make solar power more attractive to homeowners.
The partnership between Solar Ovonic and the roofing company already offers seven different prefabricated systems, ranging in capacity from 3 to 120 kilowatts. Tests show that the solar roof panels are rugged and can withstand winds in excess of 160 miles per hour. This article and the information in it gave me real reason to believe that solar power is possible for most of us and may actually be right around the corner!
Solar roofing materials are overall more attractive than bulky rooftop-mounted panels and they can also cut the cost of household installation by doing a double duty: generating electricity while also protecting the building from the elements. This is a great bonus, especially here in Florida. In fact, it’s perfect for Florida, if you think about it! And anyone who uses it will eventually save a lot of money.
Cecile Warner is a principal engineer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Center for Photovoltaics, in Golden, CO and he has been quoted as saying that building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) have been around since the late 1980s. She also notes that only lately have they begun to see some success with large commercial and residential developments. In fact the article points out that recent advances in flexible thin-film photovoltaic materials, such as those made by United Solar Ovonic, are allowing manufacturers to more easily integrate photovoltaics directly into the roofs and facades of buildings.
Still, as expected, many builders remain leery. New technologies are always hard to adapt to, both financially and logistically. Ms. Warner notes: “In the past, people in the construction industry have been burned by trying out new products,” and, in particular, they’re wary of products that would be difficult to recall should they prove defective. Roofing materials certainly meet that description. “I think that’s probably been the sticking point all along,” Ms. Warner points out.
EnergyPeak, the partnership between United Solar and Pittsburgh-based Centria Services Group, is an attempt to allay this skepticism. Marcelino Susas is vice president of strategic marketing at United Solar’s parent company, Energy Conversion Devices, based in Rochester Hills, MI. In the article he is quoted as saying, “We worked with Centria to develop a program that would get our product out to a number of small installers because Centria already has the infrastructure to do this.” In discussion of the benefits of solar companies partnering with construction firms, he adds, “It gives the product a lot more credibility, and it helps to break down the barrier to adoption.”
Centria designs and assembles the solar roof systems using United Solar’s adhesive thin films, which can simply be peeled off of their backings and stuck to the roofing materials. This is the easiest, lightest and most facile of all solar technologies thus far. The company then distributes the final product through small metal-roofing manufacturers that do the installations for building owners and architects. The product, called EnergyPeak, comes with a 20-year warranty and, depending on the state in which the solar roof is installed, could pay for itself in less than 10 years, according to Centria’s claims.
As I already noted, United Solar’s materials are flexible and lightweight, which makes them easier and cheaper to install than conventional crystalline-silicon solar cells. Also, they can be applied to curved roof designs, says Mr. Susas. This is a new wrinkle that expands their use exponentially. United Solar’s amorphous-silicon photovoltaics also perform better than conventional crystalline-silicon solar cells under low light and high temperature, according to Mr. Susas.
Photo: Luxury Housing Trends
“BIPV is very interesting because it offsets some of the costs associated with installation and will probably occupy a larger market share of the residential portion of the market,” says Michael Locascio, a senior analyst with Lux Research, in New York. “But that portion is very small,” he adds. That’s because BIPV systems are primarily limited to new home construction or situations in which the owner needs to replace the roof.
And although the adoption of solar power is growing fast, Locascio has cautioned that the future of the industry, at least in the United States, is uncertain. As we all know, the cost of things in the US is higher than it is elsewhere, the population is much larger and more diverse and this drives up the cost of introducing new applications. As well, the federal Investment Tax Credit, one of the key incentives driving the adoption of solar power in the United States, is set to expire at the end of the year, and it is unclear whether Congress will extend it. Write or email your congressman today and tell them you want them to do that!
Currently, Europe remains the largest market for BIPV and solar products in general, says Mr. Susas. “There are very high incentives for BIPV in Italy and France.” For instance, United Solar currently sells its solar laminates to a large asphalt-shingle manufacturer in Italy that supplies residential clients with solar shingles. And once again, the US is in danger of falling behind and the American consumer will ultimately be left with very few choices, usually those that make some fat cat a lot of money. Fight it, if you want real change in this country! Get out and vote and write your legislator and tell him or her to get it right this time! There is just too much at stake.