A heavyweight is entering the solar roofing business.
Johns Manville, a Berkshire Hathaway company with 151 years of history, has inked a multi-year deal with Energy Conversion Devices (NDSQ: ENER) to buy flexible thin films made by ECD’s subsidiary, United Solar Ovonic, that it will then incorporate into roofing materials.
The Denver-based company also created a new company called JM E3 Co. to market eco-friendly products for the commercial rooftop market. This could mean competition for people like Serious Materials and Aspen Aerogels, who have teamed up on energy efficient insulation, or Photosolar, which make integrated window films that repel solar heat. Manville already produces a myriad of insulation products for markets including aerospace, automotive and wind energy.
“Until now solar has not a great return on investments,” said Sarah Tholen, a marketing and communications manager at Johns Manville. “With the economic stimulus package there are a number of drivers that make solar an attractive value proposition.”
In the past, a return on investment for installing solar on rooftops could take 17 years, Tholen said. That window has shrunk to about six to seven years, she added.
Johns Manville’s foray into solar roofing products reflects the growing interest in building-integrated solar products, which remain a tiny market with low-efficiency products.
Unlike many rooftop solar energy systems today that use solar panels with mounting systems, installing flexible solar thin films such as those made by Uni-Solar would require no roofing penetration or racks. That could shave installation costs and reduce the likelihood of leaky roofs and other problems. Integrated solar roofs also could be more aesthetically pleasing.
Makers of copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) thin-film are going after the commercial rooftop market, though many of them are in pre-commercialization stages.
Solyndra, in Fremont, Calif., seems to have made more progress in tackling the roofing market. Last November, CIGS thin film developer said it had signed a $320 million deal with roofing system maker Carlisle Construction Materials, which is based in Carlisle, Penn.
The deal with ECD marks the first commercial product launch for Johns Manville, which has considered adding solar energy generation systems to its lineup for several years.
Under the agreement, Uni-Solar would ship its thin films to Johns Manville’s factory in Scottsboro, Ala., where they would be assembled into Johns Manville’s thermalplastic polyolefin (TPO) roofing membranes, Tholen said.
Johns Manville also will offer another product that combines the thin films with its bitumen roofing offering, said Brad Burdic, group manager for owner services at Johns Manville. This product requires customization, so it’s not an off-the-shelf solution like the one with TPO.
Bitumen systems are the oldest products for the roofing industry, Burdic said. But the newer TPO membranes account for the fastest growing segment, and they cost less, he added. TPO membranes also meet California’s cool roof requirements.
California and New Jersey are two states that promise to be strong markets for the solar roofing products, thanks to strong state incentives for solar, Tholen said.
JM E3 plans to sell its new roofing products for the low-slope commercial roofing market, Tholen said. The company expects to see the first installations during the first half of 2010, she added. She declined to disclose the value of the company’s contract with ECD.
Johns Manville opted for Uni-Solar’s thin films because they are ready to be integrated into conventional roofing materials, even though those thin films aren’t as efficient at converting sunlight into electricity as other thin films under development, Tholen said.
Uni-Solar uses amorphous silicon as the key ingredient for its thin films, which have about 6 percent to 7 percent efficiency.
“We are looking at more efficient products, including monocrystalline and multicrystalline silicon,” Tholen said. “Generally, our interest would be in systems with very limited roof penetration.”
Silicon solar panels are more expensive for integrating into roofing systems, she added. Most of them also are glass panels that require racks to support them.
There are companies such as Redwood Renewables that are putting crystalline silicon cells in roofing tiles, however (see Getting Solar Energy Cheap and Easy).
Though the solar industry today predominately produces solar panels made from crystalline silicon, they remain relatively expensive to make. New players in the solar industry have instead been looking at panels that can harvest energy with CIGS (copper-indium-gallium-selenide) or CIGS-related materials. CIGS panels have a high efficiency potential, may be cheaper to produce and would use less raw materials than silicon solar panels.
But unfortunately, manufacturing of CIGS panels on a commercial scale has thus far proven to be difficult.
Recently researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a low-cost solution processing method for CIGS-based solar cells that could provide an answer to the manufacturing issue. In a new study to be published in the journal Thin Solid Films on July 7, Yang Yang, a professor in the school’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and his research team show how they have developed a low-cost solution processing method for their copper-indium-diselenide solar cells which have the potential to be produced on a large scale.
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The U.S. solar project developer, which has seen panel prices drop by 20 percent in recent months, has completed 20 new installations using a previous, nearly $200 million fund.
by: Ucilia Wang, GreenTechMedia.com
MMA Renewable Ventures is raising more than $200 million to carry out solar power projects, some of which are already under development, the company said Tuesday.
The Baltimore, Md.-based developer also announced Tuesday that it has used all of the nearly $200 million from the Solar Fund III to build 20.6 megawatts worth of projects in the United States. MMA not only lines up money and oversees solar power plant construction, but it also owns and operates them for customers who have signed long-term agreements to buy electricity from those power projects.
The Solar Fund III deployment saw the installation of what the company said was the world’s largest installation of solar panels made with copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS), a type of thin film that is new to the market (see Global Solar Uses Own Tech to Power Up Factory). Most of the solar panels sold today use crystalline silicon as the ingredient to convert sunlight into electricity.
Overall, Solar Fund III financed 20 new solar power systems that also included a 2-megawatt system at the Denver International Airport. The fund included equity from Wells Fargo and loans from National Consumer Cooperative Bank.
MMA also is done with Fund IV, which was used only for the 14-megawatt project at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada (see Largest U.S. Solar-Electric Installation Completed).
Overall, MMA was managing 40 megawatts worth of solar power systems by the end of 2008, a 75 percent jump from 2007, the company said.
The company is raising Fund V and has lined up most of the projects, said Mark McLanahan, MMA’s senior vice president of corporate development. The company expects to have the money in place “early this year,” McLanahan said.
“We have the curve ball of the current financial crisis that makes things more interesting, but we don’t anticipate it will be more difficult [to raise the money] than in the past,” McLanahan said.
MMA would benefit from a drop in solar panel prices, which have largely been a result of the credit crunch. Solar panel prices have dropped 10 percent to 20 percent in the last three to four months, McLanahan said. A lower demand in the European market has made panels cheaper for U.S. developers, he added.
Installing solar energy systems often requires loans from banks, which have been reluctant to part with their money. As a result, many solar panels’ customers have delayed taking deliveries, leading solar panel makers to cut production and halt expansion plans (see Q-Cells Cuts Sales Forecast After Customers Delay Deliveries).
Suntech Power Holdings, which is one of MMA’s suppliers, is one of the companies that have put expansion plans on hold. It also recently cut 10 percent of the workforce (see Suntech Laid Off 10%, Factories Running at 50%-60% Capacity).
McLanahan said changes to Suntech’s operations haven’t affect MMA’s partnership with the Chinese solar panel maker. MMA and Suntech formed a joint venture, called Gemini Solar Development, last year (see Suntech Buys EI Solutions, Teams Up with MMA).