Solar Power World spoke with Paul Wise, COO at Colored Solar, about how colored panels could spread interest in solar by offering customers choices. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
SPW: Can you start by telling us about your company?
PW: Colored Solar is based in Ventura, Calif. The idea started when our CEO Mike Mrozek wanted to install solar on his home, but experienced some pushback from the homeowners association, which didn’t like the look of black solar panels on homes’ roofs. So Mike looked around to see if he could find some type of solar PV that would match the aesthetics of his roof. This led him to develop more stylish solar panels and to found Gold Coast Solar, which evolved into today’s business known as Colored Solar.
I came on board to help Mike develop his idea for the colored solar panels. We wanted to design a product that could easily integrate into homes without having to build into the house itself, as traditional BIPV requires. We wanted to make it so installers wouldn’t have to change equipment or do anything special to install our panels. Our product is really a cross between BIPV and standard solar modules. We took our module to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Lab and the National Center for Photovoltaics. They tested and validated that it worked as stated.
SPW: Who are the majority of your customers?
PW: Our customers are mainly solar integrators (though we are solar installers as well) with high-end customers who care about the aesthetic looks of their homes. We’re now also dealing with some commercial and governmental agencies.
Our customers really enjoy the look of the product they’re getting, as well as its quality. That’s what we strive to do — create high-quality products that customers will love and want to have on their homes.
SPW: Does choosing a colored solar panel mean sacrificing efficiency?
PW: No. There is no significant loss in efficiency with our solar panels. We are basically running ETL to UL 1703 certified monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules with 15% to 16% efficiency, which is comparable with the efficiency of many standard solar modules today. We’ve actually raised the bar on the product itself by designing it to last longer and in more adverse environments. Our glass, for example, is thicker than the glass on average solar modules. We’ve also had our product missile-tested using larger missiles than the projectiles regularly used with testing standards. And through additional testing, the California Electric Commission has verified our modules, as well.
SPW: How are colored solar panels encouraging homeowners associations, historic preservation committees and other groups that emphasize aesthetics to go solar?
PW: Many feel that black solar panels degrade the architectural and historical value of buildings. Colored solar modules reduce barriers to adoption by offering colored and stylized options that blend with aesthetic, architectural and historical features. For example, our tile red-colored modules blend in beautifully with terracotta Spanish-style roofs. We can also blend our panels in with the green grass of hillsides.
The National Trust for Historical Preservation Society and the DOE have also launched the Solar America Communities program to increase the adoption of solar on historic buildings. Together, they’ve developed specific guidelines for the aesthetic of solar on historic places.
I’m on boards for many homeowners associations in California and the feedback we’ve gotten from most of them is that they like what we’re doing — and people like that they have a choice.
Racking is what’s ugly. I hope anyone who uses these also pairs them with nice, low-profile racking. Animals nesting beneath residential PV is even uglier (we can help with that: http://www.spiffysolar.com).
You probably get to pay ALOT more for these modules though.