For me, one of the biggest potential breakthroughs in solar technologies will come in how it is integrated into buildings. That is because even though I am sure many people are interested in the potential of solar energy for their own home, it isn't just the cost that is holding them back, it is the prospect of putting some big array on their roof that will ruin the design aesthetics.
So, I read with interest this week about two developments in the market for building integrated solar technologies.
The first comes in the form of an installation of solar windows at the headquarters of Organic Valley in La Farge, Wisc.
The facade above includes 20 solar windows from Pythagoras Solar, featuring technology that generates energy and improves energy efficiency simultaneously. During the day, the Organic Valley workers who occupy these offices can rely more heavily on natural light. The windows are grid-connected, delivering some solar-generated energy, specifically focused on the environment they are serving. The windows also save energy by keeping the temperature more consistent.
"With these solar windows, we plan to save energy and generate power at the same time, a positive contribution to meeting our overall operational sustainability goals," said Cecil Wright, vice president of sustainability and local operations for Organic Valley, in a press release about the installation. "By adopting these innovative windows, we are also helping pave the way for this technology, which has the merit to become a standard in the design and construction of net zero energy buildings."
Pythagoras Solar figures that the return on investment for its windows is between three years and five years depending on the individual installation.
The second development worth noting is Dow Solar's move to sign three dealers in Colorado that will become the first in the United States to represent its solar shingles, which hit the market in October 2011. The technology combines a roofing shingle with a solar cell and can be installed with standard roofing materials. That is important because it means it can be installed by existing roofing contractors.
The three roofing contractors that are jumping on board in Colarado are Academy Roofing, B&M Roofing of Colorado, and D&D Roofing. The comment by Academy Roofing President Curt Boyd is typical of the three statements that are included in the press release about the new dealers:
"The Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles help homeowners thing about the roof in completely new ways. It's exciting to be part of a technology that provides a whole new purpose for the roof by enabling it to generate electricity for the home."
Dow uses as a big selling point its argument that an installation of the solar shingles can pay for itself within the first half of the roof's lifetime. It also argues that comparatively speaking, the roof will have a lower net cost than a traditional one, if you factor in the amount of money the homeowner must pay for grid-connected power.
The video below explains the installation process: