Attractive Options in Solar Power

Want to reap the benefits of solar power without the bulky panels? Consider investing in building-integrated photovoltaic products, which are designed to blend in with your home's architecture.

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Solar shingles mimic the look of traditional roofing shingles while generating electricity. Photo courtesy of Dow Solar

Converting your house to solar energy increases the value of your home by roughly 3.5 percent, according the National Bureau of Economic Research. But what if you live in a neighborhood with strict HOA covenants? Or you're worried about voiding your roof warranty by attaching something to it? Or you simply don't like the look of bulky panels and mounting racks on your roof?

The solution might lie in the next generation of solar products that combine photovoltaic cells with traditional building materials, such as roof shingles, so they are part of the building, not an add-on. BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaic) technology speeds up installation, reducing labor costs, and gets around the roof-warranty problem.

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Photo courtesy of Dow Solar

Solar Shingles

Although not widely available yet, there is a lot of excitement about solar shingles, which are installed just like asphalt roof shingles (hand- or gun-nailed), only they have a solar cell laminate glued or built in to capture the sun and convert it to electricity. If you're looking to replace your roof or build an addition, solar shingles are a good option, but keep in mind that so far these products are not as efficient as PV panels. You'll need to cover more square footage with them to get comparable energy, which can make them cost on average 50 cents more per watt. However, increased demand for BIPV is expected to make that price drop in the next five years. While it's not necessary to cover your entire roof with solar slates or shingles to power your house, like conventional PV panels, they do need to face south, southeast or southwest.

Luma Resources, based in Rochester Hills, Mich., is a roofing company that makes an integrated solar shingle system, which consists of a polycrystalline photovoltaic tempered glass module adhered to a metal shingle. Designed for steep sloped roofs, the system is UL certified and can be configured to produce between 2,400 and 8,640 watts.

By the end of 2011, Dow Solar will launch the Powerhouse solar shingle designed to mimic traditional roofing shingles and be easy enough for a roofing contractor to install by hand-nail or gun-nail. According to Dow, the tough, thin and flexible shingles produce energy while protecting your house from the elements. The electrical system is also built in to each shingle, which convey the energy from shingle to shingle and row to row, and then to a converter by a single connection, not by multiple complicated wires on top of the roof.

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Photo courtesy of U.S. Green Energy Corporation

Photovoltaic Slates

A variation on solar shingles, the AllRoof solar system by U.S. Green Energy Corporation, based in Fredericksburg, Va., is styled to emulate the color and profile of conventional slate. It's also comparable in price (prior to incentives) and lifespan (with a 90-year warranty) to Buckingham slate, but it installs "eight times faster."

Sunslates, solar electric roofing tiles by Atlantis Energy Systems, consist of Swiss Eternit roofing slates — popular in Europe — with a low-glare tempered glass panel glued to the exposed surface. These are designed to be installed on-site by trained electrical and roofing contractors. They can be installed over existing asphalt shingles or new construction.

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Photo courtesy of PHAT Energy

Solar Canopies

One of the quickest, most attractive ways to incorporate solar in your house is with a freestanding solar structure such as a patio canopy or carport. PHATport from PHAT Energy in Los Angeles comprises a pre-fab, stand-alone steel structure topped with Sanyo double bi-facial solar panels. The translucent panels allow 15 percent of light to penetrate, providing cool shade in full sun, while generating up to 2.5 kilowatt-hours of energy, enough to power an electric car or make a significant difference in the power needs of a typical home. You can even trick them out with fans, lights, outlets and stereos — the wires are hidden in the structure's columns and beams — all solar-powered.

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