“Talk with any roofer or solar company that has worked with the solar shingle product, we’ll bet they’ll tell you that the Tesla solar roof is one of the most complex and intricate roofing systems that they have ever seen,” says regional solar energy company Southern Energy Management. Tesla’s newest venture involves textured, undeniably aesthetically pleasing solar tiles that emulate standard shingles. While the company has endeavored to break into the mainstream with this new product, it’s been a tough sell, largely due to its hefty price tag. “An average 8kw solar roof will have around 460 solar shingles, which means there are 460 wiring connection points on your roof (or 460 possible break points),” Southern Energy Management explained. “On the other hand, a traditional solar system for this size will include around 25 solar panels, meaning 25 connections.” And then there’s the fact that all those little shingles are extremely pricey. Tesla significantly increased the price of their solar roofs last year due to a cited “roof complexity factor.” At the same time, Tesla’s technology has vastly improved, with their solar shingles now able to produce 22% more power.
While Tesla has received a lot of press for its solar roof venture, the idea of making solar shingles that are installed in the same way that typical asphalt shingle is applied is not novel. “Companies from Dow Chemical Company to the now-defunct BP Solar have given the solar shingle a shot,” CNBC recently reported, “but many of these products are no longer on the market.” Like Tesla, these companies fell prey to high manufacturing and installation costs, preventing them from reaching any kind of mainstream commercial success.
But now Tesla has a new competitor, and it could be a game-changer. GAF Energy has launched a new solar shingle that undercuts the price of Tesla’s solar roof by about half the cost. GAF energy is a subsidiary of Standard Industries, a parent corporation that owns a number of roofing companies, which gives it a serious competitive edge over other solar roof ventures.
“We’re part of the world’s largest roofing manufacturer. We have access to materials that typical solar companies don’t have access to,” Martin DeBono, President of GAF Energy was quoted by CNBC. “No one has ever specifically tried to make a solar product that a roofer can install. And we’ve done it, and our product goes on with just a nail gun. It goes on twice as fast as typical solar.”
This is the biggest innovation that GAF is bringing to the table: good ol’ hammers and nails. By simplifying the installation process, GAF is making solar roofs more accessible for roofing teams as well as prospective customers. Traditionally, consumers switching over to solar have had to strip their roofs, install new shingles, and install solar panels on top of that in a two-step process. Now, one of those steps can be eliminated. After the old shingles are stripped, the new solar shingles can be nailed right in in their stead.
GAF hopes that this approach will allow the company to appeal to all consumers that are getting their roofs re-done, and not just those who are already looking into installing solar panels, a move that would blow the market wide open for solar roofs. “The roofing ecosystem is 20–30 times larger than solar. In the United States, 200,000–300,000 people get a new solar system each year. Over 5 million get a new roof,” DeBono recently told Ars Technica. “Our innovation is you now have a nailable solar roof, which fits the way that the majority of roofs are installed.”
A massive scaling-up of solar energy can’t come fast enough. As the UN declares a “code red for humanity” and world leaders finally start to get serious about the climate crisis, widespread adoption of renewable energies will be a necessary part of the effort to curb global emissions fast enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Making clean energy available, affordable, and accessible to a wide market of homeowners is a promising step in the right direction.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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