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Residential market leader to Foray into Building Integrated Photovoltaics

Posted by Emma Marshall-Torres

Source: Solar Energy Facts BlogRenewable energy technology pioneer Elon Musk may have a new endeavor on the horizon for his newly acquired solar company, SolarCity.

In this year’s Q2 earnings summary held in August, the SolarCity Chairman alluded to future ventures into the building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) market, saying, "it’s a solar roof, as opposed to a module on a roof… it’s not a thing on a roof, it’s the roof".  

The transition is inspired in part by potential residential clients with aging properties, who "[wouldn’t] want to put solar panels on top of a roof [they’re] going to replace". Musk sees the innovation as particularly appealing for homeowners with roofs 20 years old or more, and believes up to 40% of potential users are deterred by their aging.

But entering— and especially staying in— the BIPV market may initially be an uphill battle. Dow Solar Solutions, an offshoot of the namesake’s chemical corporation, folded in July, halting its projects to bring solar-shingles to a wider audience; its operations were active for less than five years. Too, CertainTeedArteZanosIntegrated Solar TechnologyAtlantis EnergyLuma ResourcesSunTegra, and others are already present in the realm of integrated shingles.

External challenges include driving down the cost of opting for solar roofs over traditional roofs with solar panels (or roofs with no solar potential whatsoever), and developing a model that is both functional and efficient. 

Yet SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive expects the company’s factory to increase capacity by at least a gigawatt, and launch the solar roofs in the next year. A majority of the initiative’s capital incentives have already been incurred, said Rive. According to a forecast from n-tech Research, the BIPV market could triple from a 2015 $3 billion baseline to $9 billion by 2019.

Aging rooftops is an issue in most residential scenario's due to the physical attachment of the solar panels. Whereas, commercial properties with flat rooftops leverage non-penetrating style solar racking make aging rooftops less of a concern, as these setups make it easier for the panels to be removed and replaced for roof repairs. 

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