By Oliver Koehler, CEO of SunTegra
After a somewhat tumultuous year for roof-integrated solar, we’re heading into 2017 with unprecedented attention and momentum. The past 12 months of lows and highs have left roof-integrated solar shingle and tile manufacturers in a better position than ever, but not without some serious whiplash.
Until 2016, there was little general interest or awareness in roof-integrated solar. Most people in the solar industry considered building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) a niche market appealing to those willing to pay the markup for a more expensive and often less efficient residential solar system. Homeowners had shown interest in roof-integrated solar, but general awareness of roof-integrated options was low.
With Dow Chemical’s discontinuation of its Powerhouse Solar Shingle product line in July 2016, what many considered to be an already dubious market took a real delegitimizing blow. Dow joined an ever-growing list of roof-integrated solar manufacturers that could not find a path to commercial success, and the solar roof was faced with misconceived questions about its market feasibility.
Dow’s failure was seen by some as a reflection of the solar shingle market as a whole, while in reality, it was due to Dow’s faulty technology strategy.
Dow’s shingles used thin-film technology, which is less efficient and much more difficult to manufacture at a small scale than standard crystalline technology. Mono/polycrystalline solar shingle products currently on the market are not bound by the same price and scale restrictions. Dow’s exit certainly presents questions for the viability of thin-film as a technology strategy for emerging solar markets, but it is not indicative of slowing market demand for roof-integrated solar.
And yet, to the casual observer, roof-integrated solar might have seemed fraught with industry doubt.
So when Elon Musk announced in August that Tesla was developing its own solar roof product, the solar industry was forced to consider whether roof-integrated solar will be the future of residential solar, and the general public’s awareness increased exponentially.
Cue the whiplash mentioned earlier.
With Musk’s announcement and subsequent unveil in October, roof-integrated solar received a major boost in market acceptance and awareness, sending customer demand skyrocketing through the end of 2016. At SunTegra alone, we saw about 300% revenue growth in Q4 over Q3, plus a huge uptick in inquiries about solar roofs submitted through our website.
No longer are solar shingles being considered a niche product—the market is showing its support with tangible customer demand. And with this momentum still behind it, the solar roof market is coming out roaring in 2017 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Take RnR Market Research’s 2015 BIPV study as an indication of expectations for the solar roof market. The study predicted the BIPV market would grow from $3 billion in 2015 to more than $9 billion in 2019, reaching $26 billion by 2022. According to the study, roof-integrated solar is expected to remain the largest segment of this market throughout the forecast period.
Despite skeptics, the research clearly predicted a burgeoning market space for roof-integrated solar. The challenge we faced until now was consumer awareness.
Looking at where we are at the beginning of 2017, having a major cleantech player like Tesla and a celebrity CEO like Musk advocating roof-integrated solar will certainly only continue to attract the attention of the mass media and consumers. If Musk’s previous pursuits are any indication, the “Musk Effect” has a potent and tangible ability to help emerging markets explode. Electric vehicles, home battery storage—these only became modern symbols of luxury and amenity once Musk injected them with his hype and eye for design.
This “Musk Effect” has already dramatically changed public perception of the once-overlooked roof-integrated solar system. With Tesla expected to launch its solar roofs at the end of summer 2017, the escalating media buzz will create more opportunity for current products on the market, including shingle and/or tile products from companies such as CertainTeed, LUMA Resources and our own SunTegra. Every Musk announcement and update will catalyze demand and foster exponential growth in this market for many years to come.
As market awareness builds through 2017, the key will be to educate consumers on the economic offerings of roof-integrated solar. Musk’s unveil might have left observers starry-eyed for 2017, but it has been noted he avoided a discussion of his product’s functionality, cost or any other financial metrics. With only an unclear implication from Musk that Tesla’s roof will cost less than a regular roof and will “by the way” produce energy savings, the fresh buzz around roof-integrated solar is ripe for education. That will be a job for solar shingle manufacturers with products currently on the market.
No doubt, the selling points are there. With the price of producing crystalline technology continuing downward and efficiency on its way up, mono/polycrystalline solar roof systems are seeing an increasingly level playing field with roof-mounted solar systems.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for roof-integrated solar is the savings to consumers when installed as a new roof. For a homeowner already paying for materials, labor and transportation, the difference in cost between a new roof plus solar versus solar shingles becomes negligible. A roof-integrated system saves on the racking and footings needed for conventional solar modules, as well as the cost of traditional roofing materials. For the 5 million new residential rooftops installed in the United States every year, roof-integrated solar is a no-brainer.
With an aesthetically superior residential solar system on the market that makes economic sense to potential customers, the solar roof will see greater customer demand than ever before. To paraphrase Musk, who wouldn’t want a roof that looks great, saves you money and generates electricity?
It’s a brand-new year for the solar roof.