CertainTeed, one of the nation’s largest roofing manufacturers, has partnered with a solar technology developer to produce solar-integrated roofing products by 2010.

CertainTeed, based in Valley Forge, Pa., is a major player in the residential roofing market so the widespread availability of solar-integrated roofing could become critically important to green building efforts and the renewable energy market. The plan is also significant for what it could mean for the perception that solar panels are an eyesore.

“It was critical for us to provide photovoltaics not just for energy, but for the aesthetics as well,” says Husnu Kalkanoglu, CertainTeed's vice president of research and development for the company. Because the solar will be blended into the roof the panels will be less obtrusive from the curb, which could further spur interest from home buyers and builders. (Many homeowners' associations have rules against roof-mounted solar collectors in their developments.)

Under the agreement, CertainTeed will use thin-film solar laminates technology that was developed by Energy Conversion Devices in Rochester Hills, Mich., to produce roofing products that seamlessly integrate the solar panels for a clean look, the company says.

“The lightweight and flexible design of the UNI-SOLAR solar cells makes them ideal for integrating directly into our roofing products and will help us create aesthetically pleasing solar solutions that blend seamlessly into the homeowner’s architecture, while generating clean, renewable energy,” says Guillaume Texier, president of CertainTeed’s roofing division.

Solar energy has long been seen as a technology that has the potential to help home buyers lower energy bills and reduce their dependence on coal-fired electricity. The technology, however, has had neither broad support nor widespread market penetration—except for California—mainly due to high initial cost and the lack of state and federal tax incentives to help buyers defray the cost.

But things may be changing as electric rates increase and as more states such as New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, and Connecticut make it more attractive for consumers and builders to invest in solar energy. As further indication that the growth of solar is imminent, the recently signed economic bailout package includes tax incentives for renewable energy such as solar. Observers say the United States could become the largest solar market in the world by 2016.

CertainTeed’s solar-integrated roofing will not exactly make solar cheaper, however. In fact, Kalkanoglu says the company does not have pricing information yet, but he expects that the products would be comparable to traditional solar prices.

But he says the product will have other advantages. “This will increase the flexibility of installations,” Kalkanoglu says. “Because the product will be integrated, builders and architects could actually spread the solar installation over a larger space.” With traditional panels, a large installation could overwhelm the roof, but the new product allows them to use a larger surface. Moreover, the company says the solar-integrated shingles would be installed in the same manner as traditional roofing. Roofers may need just a little bit more education. 

Nigel Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine.