SOLAR POWER, OR PHOTOVOLTAICS, has been around for decades, but only recently have homeowners and builders seriously considered it a viable way to cut energy costs. Fluctuating gas and electricity costs are driving the building industry's interest in solar power systems and fueling the market's growth.
In the past few years, several builders in California have started developing entire or partial communities that incorporate solar power systems—and home buyers are snapping them up. “We're seeing that there's a premium people will pay to live in these solar developments,” says Colin Murchie, director of government affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington.
Despite the energy savings, some buyers shy away from the idea of a large photovoltaic array on their roof. But this perception of solar panels is outdated. The photovoltaics industry now offers integrated modules that can be recessed into the roof instead of mounted to a rack a few inches above it.
“People are turned on by the sexiness of photovoltaics, but the aesthetics remain a concern,” says Gordon Handelsman, sales and marketing director for Shell Solar, based in Camarillo, Calif. “That's where building-integrated products come in. They look very sharp and stylish in many of the designs.”
Building-integrated photovoltaic products include roof tiles such as those from United Solar Ovonic in San Diego and Atlanta-based GE Energy that blend with concrete tiles or asphalt shingles; the roofing material itself is actually the solar panel. Similar products from Huntington Beach, Calif.–based Sharp Solar, Shell Solar, and BP Solar in Frederick, Md., will soon be introduced to the U.S. market from Europe and Japan. Other products include solar panels affixed to traditional roof tiles and modules with slimmer profiles that are designed to resemble architectural skylights.
In the future, look for more integration. According to Tom Moran, senior product market manager for United Solar Ovonic, the movement toward building-integrated photovoltaics must continue in order for the solar market to expand further in the residential segment.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.