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GAF Dives Into the Residential Solar Market

These new low-profile PV panels do not use a conventional rack system

Posted on May 11 2017 by Scott Gibson

GAF is branching out from its familiar role as a manufacturer of roof coverings to offer a line of residential solar panels called DecoTech.

The low-profile panels are attached to the roof with a proprietary frame that GAF developed, skipping conventional metal racks that keep panels elevated slightly above the roof surface and require installers to drive fasteners through roofing shingles. The edges of the array are flashed to prevent water intrusion.

GAF has been involved in the commercial solar business for several years with "proprietary financial relationships" that encourage commercial and industrial rooftop installations. But this is the company's first foray into the residential solar market, now dominated by installers like Solar City, Vivint Solar and Sunnova.

The reason is solar's growing mass market appeal, Tony Ruffine, GAF's vice president for sustainability and strategic marketing, said in a telephone interview.

He called DecoTech the "first of a road map of solar products" that GAF plans to roll out in the future. “DecoTech is a gen[eration]-one product and we know that this is going to be a continuing, evolving market," he said. "This is not a one-shot program for GAF.”

Buy the laminates, make the frames

Ruffine said that GAF buys Tier 1 solar laminates from companies such as SolarWorld and mounts them in a framing system that it developed. The U.S.-manufactured panels have a rated capacity in the range of 300 watts.

“Our product is actually integrated into the roof. There are no shingles underneath it, and not a bunch of penetrations underneath it," Ruffine said. "It’s flashed all around it. If you watch someone put solar onto a shingled roof and you’re a roofing person, you kind of wince at what they do to get the product in place.”

He said the systems should sell for between 10% to 15% more than a conventional rack-mounted system.

DecoTech was launched at the International Builders' Show in January, and to date only a dozen or so systems have been installed. But Ruffine said that DecoTech panels are available in most if not all U.S. markets, although some parts of the country are more attractive than others from a climate and net-metering point of view.

Building-integrated choices are few

GAF is trying to make a splash in a tough market. Last year, Dow announced that it was abandoning its Powerhouse Solar System, shingles using a thin-film cell manufactured by NuvoSun. Although the cells blended into the roof visually, they weren't cost competitive with conventional racked systems.

CertainTeed still makes an integrated solar shingle called Apollo II, and Tesla is now taking pre-orders for its solar cells, which are made with a textured glass surface that looks like conventional roofing. But GAF doesn't appear to have many competitors in the building-integrated arena.

Ruffine said that GAF is avoiding problems that helped sink Dow's building-integrated solar program. "We're taking a different approach," he said. "They went with a shingle-sized solar product, and that has a lot of costs built into it, a lot of inefficiencies in output built into it," he said. "When people are serious about solar, they’re trying to generate as much electricity as they can in the space that they have.”

The key for GAF, he said, was to make solar appealing to the mass market, not turn it into a boutique product.

“We looked at solar and said if we’re going to launch something it needs to be a mass-market product," he said. "It needs to be differentiated enough to make sense. We designed our product to be a great entry point for roofing contractors, roofing professionals who are trying to get into solar. I won’t say it installs like a shingle, but it installs in a way that is intuitive to a contractor."

GAF offers training to roofing contractors who want to become solar installers through its Care Program, which has eight full-time trainers on hand.


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1.
May 11, 2017 9:45 AM ET

More info
by Armando Cobo

Thanks for the heads-up. I’m in the process of designing models for a ZERH subdivision. This system is just coming out, as in not even the locals have a clue. I had to contact GAF in NJ. In their specifications we can see these sleek GAF Panels are 17% efficient, produce 285 Wp and costs 10-15% more than a conventional rack-mounted system, but there is no local prices available yet. We use SunPower327 which is 21% efficient, produces 327 Wp and if the costs are 10-15% cheaper, they have some more work to do.
The panel system is to be installed on pitched roofs of 4/12 pitch or higher. So a flat roof or low pitch would need to use a different system. Since half of my designs are flat or low pitch roofs, that would make us use two companies. No bueno!


2.
May 11, 2017 11:01 AM ET

Don't they get hot?
by stephen sheehy

Panels lose efficiency when they get hot. A rack system allows air to get under the panels to cool them. I wonder if the GAF panels will lose efficiency on sunny days☺


3.
May 12, 2017 2:42 PM ET

Edited May 12, 2017 2:43 PM ET.

One big advantage
by Eric Habegger

There is a seemingly big advantage to this technology. One thing I've always struggled with is how to coordinate a new solar array installation with the age of the existing roof shingles. Any array mounting installation is pretty intrusive to the water shedding ability of the shingles. One has to do it right to maintain it. What if the shingles are within 5 years or so of their service life and you want to install a solar array? Even if there are no leaks it would still be best to coordinate a new roof with the array installation. Otherwise you will have to remove the array and shingles when either a leak develops or you want to insure that no leak develops at the end of the shingle service life. A big headache and extra expense when reshingling.

This type of installation would eliminate almost all of that headache and timing issues about that. This array would be part of the rain shedding system and supposedly would have the durability of a metal roof. The transition between the array and the shingles would allow a complete reshingling without removing the array. The only thing you might have to do is raise the lower, and/or side lips of the array to stick the new shingles under the array. The top shingles would go right over the top lip of the array. That seems like a very big advantage to a technology like this.


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