Going solar with new solar roof shingles

dennis63

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This site has always had some construction enthusiasts, so I thought I'd share this story here to let you guys know how this goes and post some photos as this develops.

Nine years ago, my wife and I bought our current home and had a solar energy company come out and evaluate the property. I remember numbers like $40,000 and $20,000 being batted around as "total cost" and "my share." I'm not the Monopoly guy, so I passed.

The salesman was honest, and said, "Wait until you need a new roof. By that time, this new technology that's just over the horizon will be out on the market." He looked both ways and in low tones, he said, "Solar roofing shingles," as if he invented it and didn't want anyone to steal the idea.

Now, it's time for a new roof. A quick check on Google and I was in the office of my local roofer.

Dow, the chem giant, makes a "Dow Powerhouse" shingle that's a flat, thin-film product that looks like the glass from a pair of black mirrored sunglasses. The squares are the size of a regular shingle, and each one plugs into the next. The wires and plugs are concealed in the body, so you get the look of shingles or black skylight on the roof. I kinda like the look -- high tech and understated at the same time.

Apparently, Dow is anxious to get these up and running on houses. Their sales guy called my house, but wasn't pushy. He opened with, "Wait until you need a new roof." I told him that was right now.

They did an evaluation of the house. It turns out I won't be kissing the power company goodbye any time soon. I have a two-story Colonial, so twice as much house under the roof as a rancher, and more power needed to heat and cool all those chips.

But the numbers are what sold me.

Tentative numbers so far as: after rebates, the system will cost between $6,200 and $7,000 more than the cost of replacing the roof. For that, we get a 2.5 KW system that will supply about half the electricity my house uses, based on past bills. That means a savings of about $70 per month -- more as the cost of power increases in the future. So the system pays for itself in about eight years -- sooner, probably, because the cost of power is going up. It's warrantied for 25.

The downside: The system actually costs far more, but Dow will finance you until you get your rebates from the company, the state and federal taxes -- a year or so. And we can't erase 100 percent of the electric bill and sell power back to Delmarva. (Not enough roof space, and part of the house is two-story and part is one-story. That means the two-story half shades the one-story during part of the day, and putting more PV shingles there won't be as effective because of the location / direction of the house.)

Still, I'm intrigued at the prospect of retiring in 10 years and having the electric bill of a small cottage.

Actual plans will be done in a week, and the roofers will arrive the week after.

"Before" and "after" photos, real numbers, and those great "construction photos" coming soon.
 

Tommy

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I will be following this thread for sure. I have a rancher so this could be a good option for me when I replace the roof.
 

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We looked into it when we replaced our roof 4 or 5 years ago. The biggest problem we have is we do not have south facing roof. So half the panels are worthless for half the day.
 
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dennis63

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We looked into it when we replaced our roof 4 or 5 years ago. The biggest problem we have is we do not have south facing roof. So half the panels are worthless for half the day.

New technology in the shingles has increased the efficiency quite a bit. Apparently, they've only been available for about a year and a half. But every house is different, and on a curved street like mine, every house would probably see a different result.

For me, it's really trying to turn a net negative (the cost of a new roof) into something very positive -- long term savings and clean energy.

- - - - - - - - - Updated - - - - - - - - -

Got an e-mail this morning. Design plans for the system are done ahead of schedule.

The roofing company arrives Tuesday morning to go over the plans and quote an exact price.
 

Tommy

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What's the sq footage of the roof you are getting the quote for?
 

dennis63

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What's the sq footage of the roof you are getting the quote for?

IMG_2007.jpg

Sketch.png
The "before" photo of the current roof, and my rough sketch of the layout from their plan -- total roof is 1383 sq ft. Two solar arrays cover 387.3 sq feet.

The finished plan includes solar shingles on both the two-story and the one-story section of the house. They may have changed their mind about how much electricity this will generate. Originally, it was only going to be the 2-story section and around 300 sq feet. There may be some advantage to doing it this way.
 

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dennis63

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Tue., May 27, 2014: Roofers were here today to measure and check the attic and breaker box. They'll provide estimates in about two days.

They'll provide two sets of numbers:

1. The complete roof without the Powerhouse solar shingles
2. The entire package, with the Powerhouse solar installed.

.
 

mrr

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Thanks for sharing this. I'm very interested in the process and the outcome.

Very cool, Dennis. I looked at doing solar panels on my house. The Florida government had some really great incentives on solar panels several years back, but it was still quite a large up-front investment. Here is anther pretty cool idea if you haven't heard about it, yet. http://www.solarroadways.com/intro.shtml

And LabMonkey--what kind of lab do you work in?
 

BUBBLE

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make sure youcheck with your ins company. in ontario anyway a fireman is not alowed to go into a burning building that has solar panels on it so your ins goes up
 

dennis63

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make sure youcheck with your ins company. in ontario anyway a fireman is not alowed to go into a burning building that has solar panels on it so your ins goes up

Do you know exactly why they have this rule, or "What is the extra risk?" Chemicals in the panels or the batteries, or simply a risk of roof collapse from the weight of the panels in a fire?

Great info and good questions to ask. I will find out from my own local fire house.

Thanks
 

BUBBLE

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The fire will energize the panels and they can't be shut off plus the chemicals in them. A friend of mine had to get a petition signed by all his neighbours. Don't get me wrong he is very happy and gets about 4k a year and never pays for hydro. Just thought you should know it may not even be the same there
 

dennis63

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The fire will energize the panels and they can't be shut off plus the chemicals in them. A friend of mine had to get a petition signed by all his neighbours. Don't get me wrong he is very happy and gets about 4k a year and never pays for hydro. Just thought you should know it may not even be the same there

I can see that disconnecting the panels could create an added step when putting out a fire. I'm guessing there's a safety feature for that, but will ask about an "emergency shut off." (The system can be controlled online. I'm not sure if you can shut it down remotely.)

Fire energizing the system (i.e., creating electricity): I have no doubt you heard this, and don't doubt you, but I have a doubt about the scientific basis for this. A house fire doesn't add electricity to your conventional system, and can't generate electricity in a solar panel, as far as I know. The only energy that would be transferred in a fire would be heat.

The added risk to firemen is the risk of a roof collapse from the extra weight of large solar panels on the roof.
 

BUBBLE

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That is what I was told. I know very little besides what I was told to me by my friend
 

dennis63

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That is what I was told. I know very little besides what I was told to me by my friend

I know these are all good questions to ask -- the safety of the system, the extra weight, any added risk of fire or risk from the chemicals in the panels, etc.

I was a bit concerned about a system with batteries -- expensive and potential risk. However, in Delaware, battery systems are not common. You have to stay "on the grid" with Delmarva Power, so batteries are an option, but a very expensive one.

I haven't heard actual quotes from the roofing company yet. I expect to hear tomorrow.
 

dennis63

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Here's a few news articles from last year on it:
CBC: Link
Better Farming: Link

Interesting read on both counts. I didn't think posting about this would cause controversy, and I'm only posting to let people know how it goes, in case they are interested.

Not sure why everyone keeps saying "panels." I'm getting solar shingles - not panels. The technology has been officially out on the market for 13 months.

Since my house is a "second cover" now, both layers of old shingles will have to be removed and replaced by a single layer of solar shingles. The net weight on the roof is certain to be less, when finished, than it is right now. as there's no way the thin-filament solar shingles weigh more than two layers of conventional asphalt shingles, but I will confirm that.
 

CdnBeerLover

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I don't know if solar shingles are available here, or have the same concerns. I've only heard about panels that go on top of an existing roof. I would expect similar concerns with both.
 

Milo013

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I think Dennis is likely correct on the weight issue. My question would be how often do you have enough sun / light that your shingles would actually be generating power? And, if you are not allowed to sell power back to the grid while you are not using it (ie when you're out of the house during sunny daylight hours), how quickly will your batteries reach capacity, and what happens to the excess?
 

dennis63

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I think Dennis is likely correct on the weight issue. My question would be how often do you have enough sun / light that your shingles would actually be generating power? And, if you are not allowed to sell power back to the grid while you are not using it (ie when you're out of the house during sunny daylight hours), how quickly will your batteries reach capacity, and what happens to the excess?

Two-directional electric meter

Part of the system is a two-directional meter, which runs backwards when your system is creating power. You draw from the grid when you're not generating power, or generating less than your house is using. You have an online "control panel" that will tell you how it's doing at the moment, and for the month or year, and you get a statement from the power company each month that lists your power generated, power used, and power drawn from the grid.

I learned the power company now buys your excess electricity at their rate -- the rate they charge you for power. (This must have been passed in a law, as they'd have no other reason to change it.)

If your net is a negative (you made more power than you used), you can opt to receive a check from the power company, or "carry it" to the next month, in case you use more in a different season.

Will there be enough sunlight?
This is anybody's guess, and the reason I'm posting about it here -- to share the "real world results." The power company says that in my area, and on a house with the same orientation on the compass as mine -- the system will generate about half the power we currently use. The solar shingles make power on cloudy days, just not as much as on a clear, sunny day. It won't "cancel" my electric bill, as I said in the OP here, but it should cut our energy bill in half.

Efficiency
I've read that the efficiency of the shingles -- the amount of energy that comes out of them compared to the energy of the light going in -- has almost doubled in the past five years. The whole solar power industry hinges on efficiency, and up until now, it has been pretty low. (The University of Delaware has an Institute of Energy Conversion where researchers have been trying to find ways to improve the efficiency of solar panels.)

Solar panels installed five or more years ago have an efficiency of 9 or 10 percent. Solar shingles, using a new combination of chemicals to create the energy, are at 19 percent.

Timing
So if you waited another five years, efficiency might be higher, and you'd get more power per square foot of solar shingles. Since I need a roof now -- and I do -- this is my chance to put these up there. Otherwise, I'm buying new, 30-year shingles, then tearing them off and throwing them away before they've done their time on my roof.

The down-side(s)
So far, from what I've learned:
1. The cost is (obviously) more than just the roof replacement cost. (We'll have quotes for both -- the roof only, and the roof with the solar shingles and all the other power system components. The key question is: "What is the added cost, and what will the savings be?" This will tell me how long it will take for the system to pay for itself.
2. You can't do a "second cover" of shingles on top of solar shingles. On a conventional roof, when you're ready to replace the roof, our county allows you to add a new layer of shingles, without tearing off the old shingles. (They don't allow a third cover, but some areas do.) With solar shingles, you obviously can't do this.
3. Any added safety concerns with solar? This was discussed above, and I'll be researching the answers with the roofer and the fire company.

IMG_2012.jpg
Shingle color samples. We're going with "Moire Black," the color of the large shingle samples in the bottom two rows.
 
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Tommy

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Dennis...I think there is an energy credit on lighter color shingles. It could have expired by now though. When I was shopping for a new roof, a few of the companies told me about it. I think I read about it on the IRS website too. Something to consider if it is still available.

The U.S. federal government offers tax credits and other incentives for energy-efficient home products. The incentives change from year to year, so it is important to check with a tax accountant. In 2011, the tax credit for installing a qualified Energy Star roof on a principal residence equals 10 percent of the cost of the roof up to $500. Many states also offer grants, tax exemptions or credits and other incentives for using green products.

The Cool Roof Rating Council certifies roof products for the Energy Star program. Its website offers a comprehensive list of roof materials and manufacturers. The list includes an Energy Star rating for each type of roof material. As of late 2010, three manufacturers carried qualified Energy Star shingles. Most of these are available at home stores and building supply houses.
 

dennis63

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Dennis...I think there is an energy credit on lighter color shingles. It could have expired by now though. When I was shopping for a new roof, a few of the companies told me about it. I think I read about it on the IRS website too. Something to consider if it is still available.

Thanks, Tommy. I'll look for it.

The key here is to have shingles that will look nice with the solar shingles, if we go with those. If not, the door is open to other color options.

- - - - - - - - - Updated - - - - - - - - -
Trying to get to the real numbers
I sat down today with the plans for the solar shingle array and a year's worth of power bills to see if I could come to some conclusions about just how much the system will save us.

The designer estimates the solar shingle array will generate 3,706 kWh of AC current in the first year, or 308.33 kWh per month average.

Based on our bills, that just under 45 percent of our actual power use (686 kWh per month).

At current prices, that translates to a savings of (only) about $51 per month - somewhat less than their initial quick estimate.

We're still waiting to hear from the roofer to learn the replacement cost of the roof with and without the solar shingles. If we're still talking $7,000 added for the solar shingles and accessories, we're looking a return in about 11 years and five months, based on current prices.

Much better than the 20 or more years I had heard in the past for solar panels, but still longer than the seven years we guessed on the first call to the salesman.

Energy cost increase will increase savings

In the past 12 months, the cost of a kWh of electricity increase 12.5 percent in my area. If we assume increases in energy costs close to the actual (real-life) inflation rate of about 10 percent per year, the system will pay for itself faster. A $7,000 system will pay for itself in about eight (8) years. (Adjusting for inflation, I estimated a total savings of $7,000 in a little over eight years.

A $12,000 system pays for itself in about 12 years. (Allowing for the same amount of energy savings and a 10-percent per year increase in energy costs, I ended up with a $12,100 savings over 11.5 years.)

Right now, everything depends on how much the system costs, and whether it generates the power the designers have estimated.
 
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dennis63

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Numbers are in - cost estimate

Estimate for job

Total roof + Dow Powerhouse system: $22,703.00
- 30 % Federal Tax Credit: (- $6,436.00)
- Local incentive (Delmarva Power): (-$3,563.00)
Net cost after credits: $12,704.00

The system will add about $10,000 to the value of the house, and generate 306 kWh of electricity per month, or 45 percent of our current bill. This translates into an immediate cost savings of $51 per month (based on current prices). Cost savings will increase about $5 per month per year as energy prices increase.

Accounting for increased energy costs, the system should return its cost in about 8 years.

 

Tommy

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Are there any other companies that do the same system in the area so you can get another quote? Let them compete for your business. Its just like buying a car IMO. The first price they tell you is never the lowest possible price you can buy it at.

These guys know you are getting these tax credits and rebates, so they adjust their prices accordingly. I bet you probably could get it all done for $12k, maybe a little bit lower. I'm a tough negotiator when it comes to making large purchases. I always like to get the best price. :) Heck I got hh greg to price match a no name e-tailer (which was not on their approved price match list) and saved $900 on my 70" TV. LOL
 

dennis63

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Are there any other companies that do the same system in the area so you can get another quote? Let them compete for your business. Its just like buying a car IMO. The first price they tell you is never the lowest possible price you can buy it at.

These guys know you are getting these text credits and rebates, so they adjust their prices accordingly. I bet you probably could get it all done for $12k, maybe a little bit lower. I'm a tough negotiator when it comes to making large purchases. I always like to get the best price. :) Heck I got hh greg to price match a no name e-tailer (which was not on their approved price match list) and saved $900 on my 70" TV. LOL

I'm looking for a "back up" installer that can do the solar shingles. (From the sound of it, I should farm that out to you!)

FYI, the cost for solar shingles was $6,200 higher than for a conventional roof, so right in line with the original numbers.
 

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Only drawbacks I can think of are durability comparison vs. time to reclaim costs. 25 yr. shingles never last the full 25 years, may 15 - 20 depending on conditions. what is the life estimate for the solar. If it takes 8-10 yrs to reclaim the added costs will you have enough life left in them afterwards to "turn a profit?". If not the so-called value added to your home is just sales talk, as a prospective buyer would be factoring in the cost of removal/replacement to their offer.

Last drawback I can think of is disposal/damage. If a cell malfunctions or becomes damaged, what are the environmental costs for disposal and replacement? I work in the chemical industry and, quite often, we will give away product near the end of it's shelf life in order to avoid disposal costs. It is cheaper to eat the loss rather than have the added expense of proper disposal. I doubt it is as extreme with these shingles, but it is still worth investigating.
 

dennis63

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Only drawbacks I can think of are durability comparison vs. time to reclaim costs. 25 yr. shingles never last the full 25 years, may 15 - 20 depending on conditions. what is the life estimate for the solar. If it takes 8-10 yrs to reclaim the added costs will you have enough life left in them afterwards to "turn a profit?". If not the so-called value added to your home is just sales talk, as a prospective buyer would be factoring in the cost of removal/replacement to their offer.

Last drawback I can think of is disposal/damage. If a cell malfunctions or becomes damaged, what are the environmental costs for disposal and replacement? I work in the chemical industry and, quite often, we will give away product near the end of it's shelf life in order to avoid disposal costs. It is cheaper to eat the loss rather than have the added expense of proper disposal. I doubt it is as extreme with these shingles, but it is still worth investigating.

The non-solar shingles are Certainteed shingles, and warrantied for as long as the original owner owns the house, or 25 years for other owners.

The Dow solar shingles are warrantied for 20 years. They're tested and warrantied to withstand 150 mph winds and 1.25 inch hail. They're UL listed, and actually made to walk on -- something I didn't know until you asked. My fire company has no issues with them, and is having a class in two weeks to teach the firemen how to fight fire at a house or building with a photovoltaic system.

If a shingle is damaged during the warranty period, Dow will replace it for free using a certified installer.

With the expected return of our costs in about eight years, we'll have 12 years of use of the system before the warranty runs out.

I don't presume the system will be immediately useless and need replacing after 20 years. With no actual moving parts, there's no reason they shouldn't last much longer, so the clock is not ticking, as far as I can see.

For me, part of the payoff is knowing I'm making electricity, the price of which is always increasing, and my energy bill will effectively be the same as a house half its size. I'm comparing this to a conventional roof, which has no actual "payoff," and represents only a large expense that will eventually also need replacing.

The "added value" on the house is not even a question for me. Eventually, if / when I do sell the house, I think it will be a no-brainer to tell potential buyers, "Hey, this house also makes about half the electricity it uses, so your electric bill will be half of what our neighbor pays each month."

What product is your company "giving away" rather than disposing of properly itself?
 
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Milo013

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We have four different divisions. Most of our chemistry has a two year shelf life and falls under the Hazardous Materials umbrella. If the value of a 5 gallon pail is $600.00, and remediation costs are $900.00, makes sense to give it to the end user and save some money, while generating good will at the same time.
 

dennis63

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Still in a holding pattern waiting for the install. There are only two companies with this technology right now -- Dow and Certainteed. They have virtually identical pricing.

My shingles were ordered last week and should be at the roofer on Monday, 07-07-14. They'll check them, make sure everything is there, and set up an install day next week.
 

dennis63

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The install is set to begin Monday, 07-14-14 (weather permitting).

The design was tweaked a bit. The solar array on the lower roof was removed, and the array on the upper roof was enlarged. The result: the package is about $1,800 less than the prior quote, and the resulting array will produce 54 percent of our monthly electricity needs, up from 44 percent.
 
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