Far from the glare of Silicon Valley’s hype-laden funding rounds, several companies have quietly been making inroads into the growing BIPV (building integrated photovoltaic) market by focusing on two core principles: simplicity and low installation costs. One of these, United Solar Ovonic, a developer of thin-film solar laminates, has combined forces with Centria Services, a maker of standing seam roof panels, to create EnergyPeak: a solar standing seam roof system.
The benefits are pretty self-evident: The systems come fully assembled, with the laminates already integrated into the roof (they are applied in the metal roofing factory), which minimizes the installation costs and eliminates the need for roof penetrations and bulky racking systems. The laminates are extremely lightweight and durable, able to withstand winds of up to 160 miles per hour, and can be bent at will to optimize sunlight absorption.
The savings in installation costs mainly derive from the use of fewer roofing materials and cheaper thin-film technology — roughly 20 percent less per watt than standard polycrystalline panels. The companies claim the system’s thin-film laminates reach a higher relative efficiency than comparable technologies by working well under high temperatures and by absorbing diffuse light, which means they are active for several hours a day — unlike polycrystalline panels, which only absorb sunlight during peak hours.
Because the laminates are mounted directly to the panels, their orientation to the sun is fixed at the pitch of the roof — which means the entire roof pitch would need to be altered to get a different angle.
The thrust of the partnership’s business model is to manufacture 7 standard pre-engineered systems, which range in capacity from 3 kilowatts to 120 kilowatts, and sell them to metal roofing companies. Cory Matchett, a product manager at EnergyPeak, told me that 15 companies have already signed up to purchase and distribute the system to commercial and residential customers.
Each company will provide prospective customers with a customized return on investment (ROI) report to help them determine their payback period and to reveal how much power they stand to generate. A 30 kilowatt system installed on a commercial rooftop in New York could pay for itself in 4 years, for instance.
Matchett called the system a “single-source” solution: a fully-integrated system, with high quality components from two reliable firms, which comes pre-assembled from a single location. For customers skittish about the price and availability of startups’ offerings — not to mention their long-term prospects — the EnergyPeak program provides a safe, easy solution.
While the current logjam over the extension of federal tax credits may have dampened interest somewhat, Matchett said many of the states with incentive programs, including California, New York, Ohio and others, have been picking up the slack. In Pennsylvania, for example (where Centria , the government has stepped into the void and provided around $100 million in new tax rebates.
Lumeta, an Irvine, Calif.-based developer of rooftop solar panels, recently rolled out its own BIPV modules for the commercial and residential markets. A subsidiary of DRI Companies, a Calif.-based roofing contractor, Lumeta’s 380 watt PowerPly modules, manufactured by Suntech, use a “peel and stick” technology that allows them to be installed twice as fast as conventional rack-mounted panels (see a video of the installation process here).
The company boasts its panels’ unique designs help them blend naturally with homes’ existing architecture. However, because they stick flat on the roof, they can’t be tilted to the optimal angle to maximize light absorption. According to COO Stephen Torres, this means the panels lose roughly 5 percent of their peak power production.
Matchett said that while EnergyPeak is focused on the roofing market for now, it would explore the option of developing systems for walls or any other “building skin”. Citing the concentrating solar PV technology recently unveiled by Covalent Solar, a MIT spun-off startup, he said the company would start looking at wall applications — and, eventually, windows — once concentrating panels become viable.
When taken together, roof and wall applications could cover millions more square feet — a possibility that is not likely to go unnoticed by EnergyPeak and its competitors.