No one invests in solar technology because they think solar panels will add to the aesthetic of their home. They're functional but they're not pretty. To make alternative energy more attractive to consumers, various companies are working on ways to incorporate solar technology into existing building materials. Solar tiles have yielded the most promising results, but the burgeoning Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) systems industry sees a future that also includes solar windows.
So far, two US companies are leading the race for economically viable solar roof tiles. SRS Energy, based in Philadelphia, has developed the Sole Power Tile, dark blue clay tiles that incorporates all the benefits of solar panels with the pleasing appearance of ceramic roofing. The power savings of these tiles alone are nothing to be sniffed at, but when used in conjunction with solar light and other alternative energy sources, the financial savings are significant. SRS Energy has partnered with US Tile, clay roof tile manufacturers, for the purposes of branding and distribution. The tiles are made of the same high-performance polymer found in many car bumpers and use flexible solar technology from United Solar Ovonic.
Dow Chemical Co., a chemical firm, has its own version of the solar tile. Dow's tiles use a film of copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) to harness solar power. The roof tiles are not as effective as conventional solar panels, operating at only 10% efficiency, but they are reliably inexpensive to produce and install, and still save money on power bills. The solar energy system used in the tiles is compatible asphalt roof shingle. Lennar Corp and Pulte Homes have partnered with Dow Chemical to distribute the tiles and there are plans to expand the market as soon as demand has been secured.
Both SRS Energy and Dow Chemical Co. plan to launch their tiles in 2010 locally and extend services nationwide in 2011. No news yet on similar technology anywhere else in the world, but should the technology prove economically viable, it'll only be a matter of time before solar tiles are common place .