Photovoltaics that Adapt to a Roofline

Products / August 27, 2010

Bob Bennett and his partners at U.S. Green Energy Corporation in Fredericksburg, Va. are squeezing the costs and rigidity out of photovoltaic solar arrays.

They’re doing it with lightweight fiberglass and tempered glass photovoltaic sheets they sell and install by the square foot – with a look that’s remarkably slate-like.

“We shape our product to the structure, rather than forcing the structure to adapt to us,” Bob said. “We’re taking all the metal out, and so we can give architects a free hand with circles, squares and rectangles.”

The company is currently working on projects as small as a 12-foot by 12 foot cabin, and as large as a 7,000 square foot, south-facing roof for an orthopedic clinic in Richmond. That one will return electricity to the grid. “The power goes back to Dominion Power during the day, and you get the credit,” he said. “At night, you bring it back and use up some of those credits.”

The company is driving costs out of photovoltaics by using factories to assemble products rather than depending on assembly and installation in the field. “It takes a lot of the labor out, and you don’t have down time from workers up on the roof, slowed down by rain and snow and wind,” he said. “We can test it in the factory and work out quality control while we put the sheets together.”

In the factory, panels 16 inches by 12 inches can be assembled into sheets 20 feet by 10 feet (depending on transportation methods, they can be as large as 53 feet by 11 feet), and moved to the construction site. An anchor sheathing is laid over roof trusses, and the photovoltaics are laid over that. Electrical wiring can be connected prior to, during or after installation.

One of the firm’s target markets is the inventory of slate roofs 75 years of age or older, particularly for historic districts. “It looks like a slate roof when we’re done,” he said. “You can replace your roof for the same price as slate, but with this product, you can generate electricity for the whole time the roof’s on your house.”

For more on U.S. Green Energy Corporation, go to:

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Michael Welton

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