Alright, as a home owner I’ve lusted for solar panels for some time. While the ROI on solar panels is 10+ years, the idea of not paying for electricity, and better yet, potentially making a few dollars off generating your own electricity is a home owners’ dream come true.
But aside from the huge capital investment, there’s also the practical concern of where to place them, whether the roof or the backyard. Solar panels don’t look bad necessarily but they definitely look a bit like an afterthought, albeit a high-tech one. But even my non-engineering mind could foresee the day when thin, photovoltaic sheets could be integrated into things like roof shingles. Hey, if calculators have been solar-powered for 30 years, it was just a matter of time right?
Well today, Dow Chemical introduced a just that: a thin-film, photovoltaic roof shingle. The beauty of this product is not just its pretty “like any other shingle” face, but also how it saves on the cost of installing a solar system because these asphalt-based tiles can be installed by your average roofer who is already installing a new, or retrofitting an old roof. The shingles are simply connected to one another to create one large, super-sized “panel.” These solar shingles are as durable as standard asphalt shingles and can be “palletized”, walked-on and installed using regular nails. While an electrician is not needed for hanging them, one is still needed to hook up the solar system to your house’s electrical system.
The only catch with this thin-film technology is that it’s not as efficient as the solar panels that you see around today – these are only 10% efficient. So these systems require more surface area to create a larger “panel.” But given that these tiles can be integrated into your entire roof, that doesn’t seem to be a big problem to me. The bottom line is that this type of solar system should offset 40-80% of your total electricity consumption, though it costs 10-15% less than the typical “racked-based” solar system today. When compared to other innovative, “building integrated” solar products, this system is 40% less.
As with all bleeding edge technologies, over time we can expect performance to increase while costs decrease. At the point, when these solar shingles become as efficient as rack-based systems and 25%+ cheaper, then I think these systems will be de rigeur in neighborhoods everywhere. Until then, early adopters will just have to accept a great looking, less expensive and integrated alternative solar system.
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