A new solar technology presented yesterday at CES could generalize electricity-producing roofs by relying on an old building material: nails.
For years, homeowners who wanted solar power stripped their old roofs of shingles, added new ones, and then slapped large solar panels on top using sturdy frames. It’s a model that works well, but it also creates a two-step process that engineers have strived to simplify.
Many companies have come up with their own take on solar roofs, but so far they have remained niche products. GAF Energy hopes to change that with the Timberline solar power shingle which bears a striking resemblance to typical asphalt shingles. But their main feature is not so much that they mimic the look of asphalt shingles, but that they are installed in much the same way. Roofers can fold back the flexible sheets and nail the top strip to the roof, just as they do with traditional roofs.
By focusing on the shingle installation process, GAF Energy is leveraging the scale of the roofing industry to make solar more accessible. “The roof ecosystem is 20 to 30 times larger than solar energy. In the United States, 200,000 to 300,000 people receive a new solar system each year. Over 5 million people get a new home, ”GAF Energy CEO Martin DeBono told Ars. “Our innovation is that you now have a nailable solar roof, which adapts to the way the majority of roofs are installed. “
New spin on an old idea
The concept of a solar roof has been around for years, and so far the best known is that of Tesla. Their solar roofs are sleek and subtle, with power-generating shingles that are almost indistinguishable from regular tiles. But despite several revisions, they remain difficult to install at a reasonable cost. This year alone, the company has significantly increased the cost of its solar roofs, adding a “roof complexity” factor that affects the total price.
GAF Energy’s approach attempts to simplify several parts of the process. The first, DeBono said, is customer acquisition. Solar installers spend huge sums of money on signing up new customers, which is added to the cost of each installation. Last year, installers spent $ 0.75 per watt to find new customers, according to to WoodMackenzie analysts. On a typical 7 kW system, customer acquisition adds $ 5,250, or about 23% of the cost of the system. By comparison, DeBono said that “roofers spend very little on sales and marketing.”
The company sought to reduce the time and complexity of the installation process by using a format that roofers are familiar with. They also increased the dimensions of each shingle, which reduced the total installation time for the entire roof.
Finally, GAF Energy moved much of the wiring to the roof rather than burying it under the shingles. Rows of solar shingles are tied in a daisy chain and connected by cables that look like seams on a metal roof. Each wiring path supports 2 kW of solar panels. Roofers make the electrical connections between the shingles and an electrician inspects them all when installing the inverter and connecting the system to the grid.
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