As I was saying …

Impressions from Solar Power International

Solar Power International 2010, a massive exhibit showcasing the solar industry, was held in October in Los Angeles. For the second year, NRCA had a booth at the show, and many of us had the opportunity to learn about new developments in the solar industry.

Some impressions from the show follow.

In 2009, the most common question we received at our booth was: "Roofing? What are you doing here?" This year, the most common question we received was: "When can we meet?"

We've come a long way, I think, toward making folks in the solar industry aware of the importance of our industry to theirs.

In 2009, solar panel manufacturers looked at roofs as cheap real estate, a good option when ground-mounted systems aren't practical. This year, the conversation was all about roof-mounted systems—both panels and thin-film. There is every reason to expect this good trend to continue.

Technology is improving almost daily. Photovoltaic (PV) cells are increasingly efficient even as costs have decreased. Solar experts predicted an effect similar to Moore's Law for computer chips: Efficiency doubles every five years as costs reduce by half during the same time period. Those experts are proving to be right.

We no longer can think of PV in traditional terms. Fully integrated PV roof systems are being pilot tested for low- and steep-slope roof systems for introduction into the marketplace next year. PV mounting systems are becoming more sophisticated. We soon will be talking about how to integrate PV-containing skylights and windows into PV-containing roof systems. And one day, we will be using PV-containing coatings on roofs.

In 2010, the solar industry will produce about 1 gigawatt of electricity. It intends to produce 10 gigawatts by 2015—enough to power 200,000 homes. Even if it falls short of that goal by half, the industry will have achieved remarkable growth. And saved energy. And created jobs.

I understand the reservations our industry has about fully embracing rooftop PV technology. There may be performance issues associated with heat transfer to roof membranes. Roof-mounted PV systems need to comply with wind and fire ratings. Roofs must—first and always—keep water out of buildings. Without subsidies and incentives, the economics don't work—yet.

But we dare not lose this opportunity. There is way too much at stake.

Bill Good is NRCA's executive vice president.


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