We’ve seen this before. Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that his electric vehicle company would branch out and start supplying a home battery market that was—and continues to be—just scratching the surface of its immense potential. Now Musk is going after solar roofing, the kind that replaces traditional roofing material instead of sitting on top of the roof.
Pick My Solar contacted Chris Fisher, a product manager with building materials manufacturer CertainTeed, a longtime producer of integrated solar roofing and soon-to-be Tesla competitor. Chris offered a quick rundown of the product category and what lies ahead for building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).
Pick My Solar: How long has integrated solar roofing been around? And where could I go to see an example of what it looks like?
Chris Fisher: Integrated solar roofing has been around since the early 2000. Since then, many well-known companies have released integrated solar roofing products including BP Solar, Dow Chemical, GE Energy, SunPower, and CertainTeed. Pictures of CertainTeed’s Apollo II and Apollo Tile II systems can be found at www.certainteed.com/solar.
Pick My Solar: What are some reasons a homeowner would choose integrated solar roofing over conventional solar panels?
C.F.: Integrated solar shingles or tiles blend with the roof line, giving the appearance that the system is a part of the home as opposed to a set of equipment bolted onto the home. Integrated solar roofing also installs without penetrations to your roof system, so there is a significant reduction in the risk of leaks. Finally, integrated solar roofing is typically independent of the surrounding roof system, so the traditional roof can be replaced while the solar system remains. This allows solar to be installed on homes where the 25-year lifetime of the solar system may outlast the current roof.
Pick My Solar: Electric vehicles are disrupting the traditional auto market. Smart home technology is poised to disrupt the market for ordinary home appliances. Is residential roofing ripe for disruption?
C.F.: Integrated solar roofing products are the most radical technology disruption that the roofing industry has experienced. However, since there will continue to be a need for traditional roofing (e.g., roof areas with poor solar access) the real disruption is less about the technology and more about the installation market. Who is best suited to install integrated solar, roofing contractors or solar integrators?
Pick My Solar: What was the first thought that crossed your mind when you learned that Elon Musk has sights set on the solar roof as a new market for Tesla?
C.F.: It is a validation of the value of integrated solar roofing. For homeowners, it provides a way to ‘go solar’ while maintaining the aesthetic of their home and preserving the integrity of their roof. For installers, it provides a way to differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace and service two significant portions of the market: those who desire better aesthetics than traditional solar can offer, and those with an aging roof that doesn’t allow solar to be installed.
Pick My Solar: What would it mean to be a direct competitor with a company like Tesla, a company with a strong technology brand that’s in the process of acquiring the biggest residential solar company in the US, SolarCity?
C.F.: We’d welcome a company like Tesla into the integrated solar roofing market. Fundamentally we come from very different places. CertainTeed has a long history of manufacturing and supplying building products to the North American construction industry while SolarCity has a commanding presence in the solar installation and finance industry.
Pick My Solar: What are some of the challenges that a company with a limited history in residential solar and no history in home construction will face getting into the market for solar roofing?
C.F.: Foremost it is the understanding of roofing materials, systems, best practices and warranties. This understanding is essential to protecting the integrity of the roofing system that is below - or in the case of integrated solar roofing, adjacent to - the PV [photovoltaic] system. Another challenge is developing relationships between those responsible for the roofing activity and those responsible for the solar activity. Strong working relationships would help resolve any performance issues that arise after the solar system is installed and prevent oversights that could lead to the voiding of a homeowner’s roof warranty. Also, integrators could generate leads from ‘partner’ roofing contractors who have new or potential customers with an interest in solar!