When Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Solar Roof in 2016, it was the first that many people had heard of solar shingles. But the idea of a roofing product that can both generate energy and blend in with regular asphalt shingles has been around for decades.
Companies from Dow Chemical Company to the now defunct BP Solar have given the solar shingle a shot, but many of these products are no longer on the market. Solar shingles have been expensive to manufacture and install, and are not yet as efficient as regular solar panels. That’s kept them from breaking into the mainstream.
Now GAF, one of the largest roofing companies in the world and a division of privately held Standard Industries, is launching a new solar shingle effort. Its sister company, GAF Energy, just released a product called Timberline Solar, which the company says will be cheaper and more reliable than Tesla’s Solar Roof. It just won the Best of Innovation Award for Smart Cities at CES.
What sets GAF Energy apart
“We’re part of the world’s largest roofing manufacturer. We have access to materials that typical solar companies don’t have access to,” said Martin DeBono, President of GAF Energy. “No one has ever specifically tried to make a solar product that a roofer can install. And we’ve done it, and our product goes on with just a nail gun. It goes on twice as fast as typical solar.”
Timberline Solar can be nailed to the roof just like a regular shingle, which GAF Energy says will reduce the complexity and cost of installation. At 17 inches tall and 64 inches long, the shingles are also larger than Tesla’s, meaning there are fewer parts to manufacture and fewer individual wiring connections, which the company expects will also decrease costs while increasing reliability.
However the larger and bulkier design also means that GAF Energy’s shingle doesn’t blend in as well as Tesla’s product, which is nearly indistinguishable from normal roofing material.
Gabriela Bunea, Senior Vice President of Solar R&D at GAF Energy, holds the company’s new solar shingle.
GAF Energy says its deep ties to the roofing sector will also help it save on sales and marketing expenses, since the company can attract solar customers from the large pool of people already coming to GAF for a new roof.
“The natural moment to actually put solar on a roof is that moment when you’re already about to replace your roof. It makes literally no sense to put brand new PV on an old roof that’s well into its warranty,” said David Winter, Co-CEO of Standard Industries.
Winter says that one out of every three asphalt shingle roofs in the U.S. is a GAF roof. “So we’re the people that are sitting at the proverbial kitchen table with the homeowner at that moment that they need to replace their roof, where we can introduce the idea of solar.”
According to Wood Mackenzie, customer acquisition costs usually make up 23% of the total cost of a residential solar system, so saving here could be key.
GAF Energy also touts the fact that it assembles and partially manufactures its shingles at its facility in San Jose, California. While the company imports its PV cells from Thailand, it believes that having some domestic manufacturing is advantageous.
“What that allows us to do is take improvements in our …….