Roof-top solar to soar, studies say

Advances in technology and product development will spur significant growth in the use of solar-infused roofing products that are almost indistinguishable from standard shingles, two reports contend.

In fact, Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research, a clean technology market and consulting firm, says the market could expand by about 271 percent by 2014 to 886 megawatts.

"As an outside possibility, this market could grow to as much as 1,200 MW (megawatts) if the cost of solar shingles can be driven to less than $1.15/W (per watt) while maintaining the size and esthetics of normal slate tiles," wrote Dave Cavanaugh of Pike Research in a blog post.

Cavanaugh defined the roof-top solar products in question as building integrated and building applied photovoltaics, "as solar products designed to replace conventional building materials, to be installed as part of a rooftop structure, and to be esthetically pleasing." He said that previous availability of such products has been limited.

But that's about to change.

Cavanaugh said new products are expected from Dow Solar Solutions, Solarfun and Canadian Solar. Other companies that expect to add products to their existing lineups include UniSolar, Swiss Solar Systems, Scheuten Solar and Shuco. This availability has been spurred by "a number of new developments such as the developing ability to laminate relatively high-efficiency (currently just under 11 percent) CIGS (copper, indium, gallium and selenium) panels into shingles that replace conventional asphalt shingles and generate power at the same time."

CIGS is a semi-conductor material used in thin-film solar applications. Cavanaugh said once the shingles can be installed by professional roofers, and allow mechanical and electrical connection, "the residential market ... would be limited only by the cost of the shingles."

Pike's findings are backed up by a report from GTM Research, which is affiliated with web energy news site "Products based on the concept of building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are beginning to emerge in the marketplace after more than 20 years of R&D."

GTM said thin-film photovoltaics enable the development because of their superior flexibility compared with conventional silicon-based solar technology.

Will it happen? Look at the roof-tops in the next couple of years. While some of the new products may not be noticeable, roofers usually place a sign in a yard after they do a job. And that sign should indicate whether it's solar. In new subdivisions, builders likewise will tout their solar cred.

The San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization is a nonprofit dedicated to improving our region's quality of life by increasing its production and use of clean and alternative energy. The SJVCEO works with cities and counties and public and private organizations to demonstrate the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy throughout the eight-county region of the San Joaquin Valley.

Photo: Courtesy Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingle.