When Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s solar roof in 2016, many people heard about the solar roof for the first time. However, the idea of a power-generating roofing material that can be incorporated into conventional asphalt roofs has been around for decades.
GAF energy solar roof: Se enfrenta a Tesla para abaratar las tejas solares
Companies from the chemical company Dow to the now defunct BP Solar have been involved in manufacturing solar panels, but many of these products are no longer on the market. Manufacturing and installing solar tiles is expensive and their performance is not yet as high as that of conventional solar cells. This prevents them from gaining a foothold.
GAF energy solar roof
GAF Energy, a sister company of one of the world’s largest roofing companies and part of privately owned Standard Industries, is now embarking on a new experiment with solar roof tiles. The company has just released a product called Timberline Solar, which it claims is cheaper and more reliable than a Tesla solar roof. It just won an award at CES for best smart city innovation.
What makes GAF Energy stand out.
“We’re part of the largest roof manufacturer in the world. We have access to materials that conventional solar companies don’t have,” says Martin DeBono, CEO of GAF Energy. “No one has tried to create a solar product that a roofer can install. We did, and our product works with a nail gun. It works twice as fast as traditional solar.”
Timberline Solar can be nailed to the roof like a regular tile, which GAF Energy says reduces complexity and installation costs. At 17 inches long and 64 inches long, they are larger than Tesla’s equipment, which means fewer components to build and fewer separate wire connections, which the company says reduces costs and increases reliability.
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However, the larger and more rigid design also means that GAF Energy’s tiles don’t integrate as well as Tesla’s product, which is almost indistinguishable from a conventional roof.
Gabriela Bunea, GAF Energy’s senior vice president of research and development, holds the company’s new solar tile.
GAF Energy believes that its close ties with the roofing industry will also help reduce sales and marketing costs, as the company can attract solar customers from people who have already come to GAF to buy a new roof.
“Installing a solar roof system is a natural solution when a roof already needs to be replaced. It literally doesn’t make sense to install a new solar system on an old roof that is long past its warranty,” says David Winter, co-manager of Standard Industries.
According to Winter, one in three bitumen roofs in the U.S. is a GAF roof. “So we’re the people who sit at the proverbial kitchen table with homeowners when they need to replace their roof, and we can introduce them to the idea of solar.
According to Wood Mackenzie, customer acquisition costs typically account for 23% of the total cost of a residential solar system, so savings in this area can be critical.
GAF Energy also notes that it assembles and manufactures the tiles in part at its facility in San Jose, California. Although the company imports solar cells from Thailand, it believes local manufacturing is beneficial.
“It allows us to make improvements to our products from the lab and deploy them very quickly,” DeBono says. Otherwise, teams would have to fly overseas to make modifications. “And we find that it literally takes a quarter of a year to change a product, whereas here it takes hours and days.”
Questions are still open
Whether GAF Energy has truly succeeded in creating an affordable and reliable solar roofing product will be seen when the 25-year product warranty expires.
GAF Energy did not provide CNBC with exact pricing information, though DeBono estimates that Timberline Solar could cost about twice as much on average as replacing a roof with traditional asphalt shingles.
“Let’s say a roof costs fifteen thousand dollars in many parts of the country. With a solar installation, it would cost another $15,000,” – DeBono says.
GAF Energy’s Timberline solar roof tiles were installed on an entire home in Montclair, New Jersey.
A $30,000 solar roof is far less expensive than anything currently on the market, and can cost less than a new roof and traditional solar panels.
For comparison, Tesla’s estimate for the cost of an average 1,700-square-foot solar roof in the Bay Area is about $40,700, not including solar subsidies. However, it is known that the cost of Tesla’s product is much higher than originally estimated. Last year, the company was sued in a class-action lawsuit after it drastically increased the price of solar roofs for customers with whom it had already signed contracts (according to court documents, Tesla later informed some customers that it was backing off the price increase).
The performance of GAF panels in real-world conditions is also an open question, as previous solar panel products have not been comparable to conventional panels.
“They tend to have lower efficiencies,” says Barry Cannella, founder of Cannella Energy Systems, a Silicon Valley solar installation company. That’s because they are flush with the roof and heat up. Therefore, the hot solar cells don’t work as efficiently as the cooler cells in traditional panels.”
GAF Energy says it uses high-efficiency mono-ERC cells, which perform better at high temperatures than traditional monocrystalline solar cells. Given the size of the Timberline Solar tile and its claimed 45-watt capacity, under ideal conditions it would still produce less electricity per square foot than Tesla’s latest tile (71.7 watts) or a mid-sized solar panel (300 watts).
At the time of CNBC’s interview with Canella, GAF Energy’s tiles were not yet commercially available. But as for solar panels in general, he doubts they will ever gain widespread popularity.
“I don’t see anything that will change those factors and make it a mass-market product. I think it will always be a very niche product, like a modern sports car,” – he says.
But Gabriela Bunea, vice president of solar research and development at GAF Energy, believes Timberline Solar can compete on price, performance and reliability.
“I hope that when you’re thinking about replacing your roof five or 10 years from now, you’ll choose solar panels because they’re cost-effective, attractive and come with the same warranty as any other roof.