Six innovative rooftop solar technologies

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Original article.

In 2010, Dow Chemical unveiled a line of solar-integrated rooftop shingles that were a marked improvement over existing technologies. The sleek plastic-coated Powerhouse shingles were capable of converting 13 percent of the sun’s energy into electricity — a full 2 percent increase over other solar shingles on the market at that time. The shingles were expensive when they debuted ($10,000 for 250 shingles spread over 1,000 square feet), and an array that size would only make a small dent in energy usage for a typical household. However, Dow promised they would pay for themselves within a decade, and the product was an important step forward for integrated solar power systems.

A year before Dow wowed the solar industry with its attractive shingles, SRS Energy launched a product that promised to make installation a breeze. Its curved Solé Power Tiles were designed to mimic the shape of interlocking mission-style clay or cement shingles. In this case, the solar shingles had the same barrel design as their traditional counterparts, so they could be easily integrated into existing mission roofs. This adaptive quality would enable homeowners to replace as little or as much of their roof with the unique solar shingles as they liked, without having to rip off the entire roof.

Solar shingles continue to evolve, not only in efficiency but also in design. Sweden-based SolTech Energy created a stunning example of the best of both worlds with its translucent glass mission tiles, which, when installed across an entire building, give the illusion of a roof tiled with ice. The shimmering SolTech roof tiles capture solar heat and use it to warm air beneath the tiles, which is then used to heat water and warm the home during the winter. The company claims the gorgeous roof tiles can produce about 350 kWh of heat per square meter (10.7 square feet), depending on weather conditions and the angle of the roof.

Solar shingles — once a unique way to add solar power production to your rooftop — may actually become a thing of the past. That’s thanks to the emergence of new roof technologies that integrate solar cells so fully that they’re actually part of the roof, rather than just installed atop it. Elon Musk promised that SolarCity, which is being acquired by Tesla Motors through a $2.6 billion merger deal, will create such a roof, but the New York–based SunTegra Solar Roof Systems has already done it.

The company’s integrated solar systems have been installed on homes in the northeastern United States and in California, two prime spots for making the most of the sun’s energy. SunTegra’s solar roof (available in tiles or shingles) currently costs 15 percent more than typical rooftop solar panels, but the company claims it’s just as durable and weather-resistant as traditional roof coverings, which is something most solar panel manufacturers cannot say.

When it comes to ease of installation for rooftop solar arrays, the SolarPod might have the market cornered. The system can be mounted to nearly any type of roof and requires no drilling of holes. Since holes are the last thing you want in your roof, this is a fairly clever solution to a common installation challenge. SolarPod’s Grid Tied solar array is an integrated and modular plug-and-play solar power system that includes a prefabricated frame made from corrosion-resistant steel that holds the solar panels. Because the frame floats above the existing roof, it’s also easy to adjust the angle of the solar array to capture the maximum amount of sunlight for that particular location, thereby increasing solar energy production.

In a completely different approach to easing the woes of installation, SoloPower developed a flexible solar panel that can be unfurled as easily as a carpet. The thin-film solar panels, linked together in long strips, boast an 11 percent energy conversion rate and a smooth installation process, thanks to their light weight and flexible composition. In theory, the flexible solar panels could be unrolled right over the top of an existing roof, in any quantity desired, without the sort of expensive glass and aluminum frames required by most rooftop solar arrays. Although the desire for integrated solar roofs may drive innovation faster, it would be nice to see more flexible — and potentially portable — options hit the market as well.

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Wind Power Finally Getting Out From Solar’s Shadow

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Solar power has been getting all of the proverbial sunlight for the last few years. Most of the focus and attention from environmentalists, regulators, and others has been on solar. There are numerous pure-play solar companies from SolarCity to First Solar. Solar is commonly used in residential applications today, and economic pundits fall all over themselves to talk about the falling cost of solar panels and the changing economics that entails. All of that attention has probably left wind power advocates feeling a little steamed.

While there are many pure-play public solar companies, there are few publicly-traded firms investing directly in wind farms or producing wind turbine equipment. Yet wind power is every bit as viable a technology as solar, and in some respects is a natural complement to solar – wind often blows hardest at night and on stormy days – exactly when solar is the least useful.

Yet for all of those advantages, wind power has simply never attracted the same fervor as solar has. That may be starting to change. While solar is very useful in some areas like California and Nevada, wind power simply makes much more sense in others. Recognition of that seems to be taking hold.

For instance, the nation’s first offshore wind farm is being developed off the shores of Rhode Island. Rhode Island is a natural place to take advantage of wind power thanks to its rugged ocean coast. The state is capitalizing on that geography with the nation’s first offshore windfarm. Once completed, the project should supply 30-megawatts to the region’s electrical grid, generating enough electricity to cover roughly 17,000 homes, including all of the tourist hub of Block Island. The project is moving ahead in competition with similar developments taking place in Massachusetts. These developments point to increasing interest in wind, even as solar continues to see support throughout the not-so-sunny northeast U.S. Related: China’s Oil Majors Are Burning Through Oil Reserves

Beyond states though, utilities also appear to be more interested in wind power. For instance, according to a press release, American Electric Power is looking to add more wind power to its portfolio. AEP’s renewable energy mix will be shifted more towards wind in the Midwest by the request for proposals to buy wind assets. The company is targeting projects that will be operational by year end of 2018, in amounts up to 100 megawatts. Projects have to be interconnected to AEP’s subsidiary Southwest Power Pool, meaning they need to be located in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas or Missouri. Through SWEPCO, AEP currently owns 469 megawatts of wind energy, and plans “significant increases in renewable energy, including wind and solar, and energy efficiency over the next 20 years.” This interest from once coal-heavy AEP suggests wind power is economically useful rather than just an environmental sop.

Wind power can play a significant role in power generation as recent events in Scotland show. Feeding into perceptions about the windy highlands, Scotland just announced that it produced enough wind energy to power it for an entire day. WWF Scotland did an analysis and found that stormy weather led wind turbines to create 106 percent of the total amount of electricity used by the country on 7 August – wind turbines generated more electricity than the country could use.

That situation, while exceptional, nevertheless highlights how wind power is changing the utility industry. For wind power advocates, these changes can’t come too soon.

By Michael McDonald of

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