Solar shingles are now gaining increasing traction in the renewable energy landscape. They are architecturally distinctive, more so than traditional rooftop photovoltaic panels. Solar shingles provide an integrated building product providing both roofing security and solar electricity in one package.
As PV Magazine’s Charles W. Thurston has stated,
“The nascent field of U.S. solar shingle manufacturers is beginning to expand from its small base in building-integrated PV (BIPV), leveraging their systemic reductions in installation costs, their improved roof and solar integration, and their continuing march-out of newer materials.”
Two of this industry’s solar shingle pioneers are Robert and Gary Allen, brothers and partners in Rochester, Michigan-based Luma Resources. The two men answered my questions about their innovative building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) products and provided these helpful photographs.
Solar shingle basics
Structurally, a polycrystalline photovoltaic tempered glass module is adhered to a custom formed metal shingle. A premium plastic edge protector surrounds the glass to provide added durability.
The junction box located on the back is positioned in the center of the shingle, allowing equal length wires to run in either direction.
Our conversation begins:
Meyers: In short, what factors led to the development of your solar shingles?
Robert Allen: It all started with a phone call. I knew a woman who worked for a solar company, Energy Center of the World. She knew that our roofing company (Allen Brothers) excelled in specialty roofing and sheet metal. She’d gotten a call from then solar-leader, United Solar Ovonics (USO). She was doing a lot of business with USO in Germany. USO asked her if she had any ideas on how USO might gain entrance into the residential solar market. She told them she didn’t have a clue, but based on their area code — being the same as mine — they should call us. They called just before Christmas in 2006.
Meyers: Where was your first product launched, and can you describe the performance successes and drawbacks?
Robert Allen: We showed our product for the first time at the International Roofing Expo in Las Vegas. We had a 10 x 10 foot booth along with a smaller display in the new products pavilion. Thousands of contractors from all over the world walk the Expo. There they see about 50+ new products being introduced into the roofing and construction market for the coming year. During the Expo, attendees are asked to vote for the best new product of the year. Our Luma Solar Roof took first place. When asked why they voted for Luma: they saw it as something they could add to their product offerings back home and make money with.
Meyers: How about system performance?
Gary Allen: The performance success has been very nearly flawless. Our biggest challenge has been helping educate interested parties about rooftop solar versus traditional rack-and-frame. For example, we actually enhance the roof’s strength as opposed to traditional rack-and-frame solar that weakens it. The general public does not yet fully understand, but that is changing with all the press and growing demand about roof-integrated solar.
Meyers: Who were the product developers, and did this effort generate interest from other companies?
Robert Allen: Gary was the key developer of the Luma Solar Roofing system. His 30 years of experience in the roofing and sheet metal industry doing some of the most challenging projects in our market area paid off big. When we were asked by USO if we could figure out a way to make their thin-film solar laminate work on a residential roof he saw the solution in his mind right away. Three days later he had the prototype shingle finished.
As to the question of our product generating interest from other companies, the answer is yes. Within a year, Dow came out with the Power House Solar Shingle, and a small company called BIPV Solar came out with its product. Dow has closed down its solar shingle division with its most recent merger with DuPont. BIPV was private labeled by Saint-Gobain (French conglomerate) through its CertainTeed division, they now call it the Apollo Tile. Saint-Gobain approached Luma ahead of BIPV Solar but we weren’t looking for a partner and turned them down.
Meyers: Describe some of your solar shingles demos, locations, and comparative costs.
Robert Allen: Although we have been involved in demos in the past, in a certain way every Luma job is a roofing demo, in a sense. Our product is first a fully weatherproof roofing system complete with its own R listing (R for roofing) at Underwriters Laboratories. When we add the solar component to the top of the metal roofing shingle it also becomes a solar roofing system. Luma Solar Roofs are located throughout the United States, Canada, and the West Indies.
Gary Allen: We currently have two active Luma demos for purposes of R&D. One is located in Detroit on the campus of NextEnergy. They are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established in 2002 to drive advanced energy and transportation investment and job creation. The second demo is on the campus of Western Michigan University in their “Solar Garden.” They will be using it as part of their clean energy degree program.
Robert Allen: Luma’s “comparative cost” can only be looked as it relates to the cost of the roof and the cost of the solar. Luma is the original, and to date, only complete solar roofing system. We cover the entire structure’s roof with either the Luma Metal Shingle or Solar Metal Shingle. Others use a patchwork method. Roofs are sold on a certain price per square foot. Solar is sold on a certain price per watt. Luma’s “comparative cost” would be equivalent to a high-end custom roof that is fully weatherproof and powers your house, as well as beautifying it.
Meyers: While the roofing system is architecturally attractive, how do longevity and performance fit?
Gary Allen: The 24-gauge painted galvanized metal that Luma uses to form its shingle has a 30-year warranty on the paint finish. The metal shingle itself is a lifetime product. The solar laminate has a 25-year power generation warranty. Interestingly, some of our systems still function after surviving multiple hurricanes, hail storms and other acts of nature.
Meyers: Who are some of the champions for your company and your solar shingles product?
Robert Allen: Here are some: PV Technical Services, Ontario, Canada 50 + – Luma Solar Roofs; Yale Acres Subdivision, Meriden, Connecticut; Home Land Builders, Ann Arbor, MI; Teddington Farms Eco Tourism Retreat, Portland Perish, Port Antonio Jamaica. Two off-grid Eco Tourism Lodges completed, five more to go.
Mr. John Sarver, former head of the Michigan Department of Energy and first Luma customer post-UL listing. John is the current head of Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA). He’s a strong solar advocate and sought after public speaker. John loves to tell the story that he wanted to put solar on his roof for decades (before Luma) but his wife wouldn’t let him. She hated the way traditional solar would make her beautiful house look. That is, until he showed her the Luma Solar Roof.
Thanks to Robert and Gary Allen for the time they have provided. I look forward to learning more about solar shingles and projects from Luma Resources.