As I was saying …

Moving to solar

I recently joined a work group formed as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar America Initiative. The initiative's goal is to have the U.S. generating 15 gigawatts of solar power by 2015. (OK, I didn't know what that means, either. It turns out that's roughly enough energy to power 3 million homes.) And throughout the initiative is an assumption—a correct one—that roofs will play a critical role in this movement.

A Californian who is part of the work group reported his state alone is expecting to be producing 3 gigawatts by 2015, conservatively speaking, so he thought the national target was awfully low. Other group members talked about the variety of issues that will evolve as solar power becomes more commonly used. What will the materials look like? Who will install them? Will certification and licensure be required? Will building codes and standards need to change? Can the marketplace adapt quickly enough to accommodate technological changes?

Good questions, all of them. And their answers will directly involve the roofing industry. There are a number of roofing-specific issues we'd better begin thinking about soon. For example:

  • Some jurisdictions already require licensed photovoltaic installers to be present for certain installations. Are we as an industry comfortable with that? Do we always want to subcontract electrical work?
  • What are the wind and fire implications for photovoltaic-containing roofing materials?
  • Who is going to train our work force to install the new products that are inevitably going to appear on the market?
  • As photovoltaic roof systems gain popularity, will state and municipal governments require their use? Will there be financial incentives to use them?
  • What do we know about longevity of such roof systems? Sustainability? Recycling and disposal?
  • Who assumes liability if energy-saving assumptions don't materialize?