In early October of last year, Congress/former President Bush signed the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008, virtually ensuring the continued health of the solar roofing industry through 2016. Solar-powered roofs qualify for a 30-percent federal tax credit (directly reducing the property owner’s federal tax bill) as well as a five-year accelerated depreciation.
“Solar’s growth is explosive,” said Registered Roof Consultant Michael Gumm. “Solar is where the Internet was in the early 1990s. It’s also a time of great opportunity - and risk - as the roofing contractor adapts to these new technologies.”
In the United States alone, approximately 30 billion square feet of commercial rooftop surface is available for photovoltaic (PV) systems and could be used to create in excess of 150 gigawatts of electricity. Globally, this number could be two to three times higher. Tapping even a small fraction of this potential would make a significant impact on the world’s energy needs.
For now, however, the emphasis is on “small.” California’s ambitious Million Solar Roofs bill (SB1) might take decades to reach fruition.
“The 20,000 or so solar projects (both roofing and non-roofing) installed nationwide last year seems like a lot until you compare it with the several million traditional roofs that were installed during the same time period,” said Tony Ruffine, executive director of corporate development for GAF Materials Corporation in Wayne, N.J. “Solar also has a very long sales cycle from a roofing contractor’s perspective, so contractors will need to consider that as they enter the market.”
Most major roofing manufacturers have either introduced or are in the process of launching solar roofing options for their steep- and low-slope roofing systems. For the roofing professional, this is a good thing for several reasons.
First, a typical PV solar installation complements contractors’ reflective roof offerings, which are selling briskly in the low-slope roofing market.
Insulated cool roofs made of highly reflective and emissive materials enhance the performance of most solar systems and lower daytime air-conditioning electricity usage by reflecting away sunlight and heat. The rapid adoption of cool roofs in the Sun Belt states has been helped by the support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s ENERGY STAR Program and by the requirements of the California Title 24 Energy Standard, which prescribes cool roofs to be employed whenever low-slope commercial roofs are constructed or replaced.
Second, manufacturers’ investments in solar technology will give roofing contractors the products they need to compete as the PV market heats up.
“A concern that I have with solar is who owns and maintains the roof itself,” said Mike Ennis, technical director of SPRI, the association representing sheet membrane and component suppliers to the commercial roofing industry. “We want to make sure that there is continuity in the installation and maintenance in the roofing system as new technologies are introduced into the rooftop environment that can have an effect on the roof’s performance.”
Currently, there is also a debate going on as to who installs the roof (roofing contractors or PV integrators) and who installs the PV system.
“The challenge with solar and garden roofs is that there are a lot of interests involved,” said Bill Good, executive vice president of the National Roofing Contractors Association. “The roofing industry must maintain ownership of the nation’s roofs.”
Roofing manufacturers heartily agree: “We do not want roofing professionals to become the subcontractors on these jobs,” said Ruffine. “We all want the roofing contractor to drive these jobs. It’s important to us that that happens.”
Last June, GE Energy and GAF announced a strategic alliance to market and ultimately develop solar systems and roofing systems for commercial and residential customers.
“The biggest potential problem that could occur is solar integrators installing 25-year PV systems on an existing roof that might not last another 10 years,” said Peter Bonavita, general manager for Sarnafil Services in Canton, Mass. “On these existing roofs, there may be a warranty that could be voided if the roofing manufacturer isn’t aware of the PV installation.”
Sika Sarnafil successfully partnered with Solar Integrated Technologies (SIT) on a commercial building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) system for its PVC roofs several years ago. In fact, SIT was an “expert” roof contracting company before moving into the solar market.
According to Bonavita, Sika Sarnafil has never installed its PV system in a re-cover application. The company finds that most of its solar jobs are specification-driven in the new construction or re-roofing markets. In the re-roofing segment, if a solar-powered roof goes on, the existing roof has always been torn off first.
“It’s certainly possible to add a solar system to an existing roof, and we would consider it on a newer existing membrane,” Bonavita said.
In fact, roofing contractors and other building professionals who perceive solar installations as too complex and time consuming should think again.
In January, at Carlisle SynTec Inc.’s Tooele, Utah, TPO manufacturing facility, a five-person roofing crew - three of whom had never installed solar before - put down more than 6,000 square feet of Solyndra’s PV panels in just over a day.
“We selected the Tooele site because of its middle-latitude location and sunny climate,” said Dick Gillenwater of the Carlisle, Pa.-based company. “In addition, the Tooele facility already has a white reflective TPO roof that will help enhance the performance of the PV system. And, because it is a Carlisle plant, the roof can be easily accessed and monitored.”
Gillenwater oversaw the installation by the five-person “in-house” crew, which included Dave Thomas, who runs Carlisle’s Asia/Pacific division. Thomas’ team quickly laid out the two 150-panel solar arrays that make up the 50-kilowatt system.
“We put the panels down in two days,” recalls Gillenwater. “Actually, the project was almost completed in one day, but the crew ran out of sunlight. On the second morning, only 60 panels needed to be installed, and it was done in 45 minutes.”
Last November, Carlisle Energy Services, a newly formed division of Carlisle SynTec Inc., signed a long-term sales contract with PV manufacturer Solyndra of Fremont, Calif.
“The Spectro360 PV system is a natural fit for our ENERGY STAR-certified cool roof systems,” said John Altmeyer, CEO of Carlisle SynTec Inc.’s parent, Carlisle Construction Materials. “When installed on Carlisle’s white reflective TPO roofing membrane, the output of the Solyndra PV system increases up to 20 percent.”
“We spent three years consulting with leading roofing manufacturers before introducing the Spectro360 PV system,” added Kelly Truman, vice president of marketing, sales and business development for Solyndra. “We introduced a solar array that allows roofing crews with limited training to install the system quickly and easily.”
As with other solar systems, a licensed electrician is still needed to install the AC power to the solar inverter, but most roofing contractors have existing relationships with these technicians anyway.
Firestone Building Products Co. recently introduced its SunPower Solar Electric Roofing System based on a time-proven raised-panel solar PV design. The company is marketing the product in conjunction with its energy-efficient ISO 95+ polyiso insulation, RubberGard EcoWhite EPDM roofing and its TPO single-ply offerings.
At the International Roofing Expo held in February in Las Vegas, manufacturer T. Clear Corp. of Hamilton, Ohio, unveiled a non-glass PV system laminated to the topside of its LIGHTGUARD protected membrane roof insulation panels. This removes concerns about heating of the roof when the PV modules are laminated directly to the roof membrane, according to the company.
Other well-known roofing manufacturers like Duro-Last Inc. of Saginaw, Mich., have yet to announce proprietary PV systems for their membranes. However, they state that their reflective single plies are able to accommodate PV systems. The company is approaching the emerging PV industry by designing systems and solutions for many types of PV designs and installation methods.
“More than anything else, roofing contractors see solar as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition,” said Sarnafil’s Bonavita.
Although solar systems can be easy to install, most are five to 10 times more expensive per square foot than a single-ply roof alone. This makes the sales process more complex and often requires that the person proposing the solar system to the architect or building owner is knowledgeable about PV technology.
“The salesperson and the office teams need to understand the various sources of value a solar system creates,” Truman said. “These include the electricity generated as well as the state, local and federal incentives. The fastest growing and most successful roofing contractors have either partnered with one of the hundreds of local solar installation companies to jointly pursue large commercial rooftop projects or they have invested in training their commercial teams on how to sell solar. Either approach works.”
According to Ruffine and others, three things need to happen before most roofing contractors even consider taking on a solar project:
1. State and local tax incentives should exist in the markets being served. To date, approximately 20 states still have no solar roofing incentives or still do not have even the most basic net-metering requirements in place.
2. Electrical rates in the target regions should be as high as possible. In areas where energy sells for 8 to 9 cents per kilowatt, the payback on a solar system is going to be slow.
3. The climate in the contractor’s marketing area should generally be sunny, although this carries less weight than existing incentives and energy costs. For example, the cloud cover in Germany is significantly greater than many regions of the United States, but solar is a big seller there due to high energy costs.
Consultant Gumm, who is founder of SolarPower Restoration Systems Inc. and a roofing contractor by trade, also understands the demands solar systems sometimes place on the roofing system.
“Solar is new and it’s young, and we are going to see many changes in specifications as new solar manufacturers and technologies enter the market,” he said. “However, those who master the new technologies will one day become both successful and wealthy.”
For more information about SPRI and its activities, visit SPRI’s website (www.spri.org) or contact the association at info@spri.