The end of the Tetris era — roof aesthetics counts
On-roof mounting systems still have the largest share in the residential solar photovoltaic market. However, for new or refurbished pitched roofs, this is not cost-effective. First of all, we need to understand that roof tiles are completely unnecessary with PV panels above them. Additionally, on-roof PV systems are quite often a visual torture. The reality is that some photovoltaic sellers squeeze in as much kW as they can and installers assemble those Tetris-like systems. The panels are arranged vertically and horizontally, clearly standing out from the roofing, visually resembling the block effect from a well-known computer game. We can do better than that.
Integrated or sticked, aka in-roof vs on-roof
On the photovoltaic market, there is now a clear increase in sales of mounting systems with an emphasis on aesthetics and integration with the roof. In addition to new solutions such as Sunroof, there is also some clear engagement of big players in the roofing industry. Both Braas and Creaton have already invested in the PV integrated systems. Recently, they were also joined by Wienerberger, who announced a financial commitment to Exasun. There are already over a dozen different PV solutions for pitched roofs on the market.
Until recently, integrated systems were perceived as a more expensive option in the premium category. Most of them were also priced this way. There is more variety on the market today, though. Below is my overview of the mounting systems available on the European market, grouped depending on the type of PV modules they use.
Regardless of the manufacturer, all integrated systems have one thing in common — they are mounted instead of the roofing material. The PV system installed in this way does not visually override the roof cover but replaces it where installed. And that generates some serious savings on material and transport. For example, a GSE In-Roof mounting system for installations with a capacity of 10kWp requires only 27 mounting trays weighing 2.5 kg each. Consider the labor savings for a roofer who, in the case of a traditional on-roof installation, first would have to transport and install 486 tiles with a total weight of 2062 kg (30× more!) and then install aluminum PV mounting rails above them. No question, on-roof systems have their advantages in the case of existing roofs, but they are no longer as economically viable on newly constructed or renovated roofs.
Each segment has outstanding leaders. The most numerous groups are brands that offer dedicated PV module roof integration systems and solar roof tiles. Most of them are very similar and their solutions are quite expensive. Certainly, the most known and interesting category is the category of PV tiles. This is probably mostly the effect of Tesla’s brand name, but all solar tiles have a very attractive appearance. In this category, one of the most valuable alternatives in my opinion are the Match Tile and Slate modules.
Solutions such as the one proposed by Dyaqua provide sensational aesthetics, because they are completely indistinguishable from similar traditional tiles. However, it is doubtful that they will be popularized with actual power of 6Wp and the price of 7€ per Wp. Buildings with a traditional appearance or monuments can probably be found where they are preferred, but rationality tells me that the use of other forms of PV will be much more profitable for our environment and the investor.
During my career at FAKRO, a direct competitor of Velux roof windows, I was privileged to work with the company in the process of preparing the integration of the roof window with the Stafier system. The solar tile of this brand replaces at least 6 traditional tiles — it is a significant convenience for roofers. What is worth mentioning here is the number of electrical connections on the roof. The first variants of solar tiles required that each of them was individually connected to the electrical installation. This generated a lot of work, additional costs, and a completely unnecessary risk of error. The probability of an inaccurately made MC4 connection in the case of a roof with 486 joints (tiles) instead of possibly 27 with in-roof systems is obviously higher and the service that might be needed is very difficult.
This is probably why the trend set by Stafier and Braas seems to have also gained the recognition of Tesla, which recently published specifications for new solar tiles — this time wider, replacing a few smaller ones.
Glass roofs offered by Emergo, Solrif, or Sunroof look very similar and differ from each other only in terms of assembly details. The final aesthetics is the main advantage of these systems. The possibility of using the so-called dummies for photovoltaically inactive fillings and roof flashings result in the uniform aesthetic character of the roof. These systems require the purchase of dedicated PV modules, manufactured in specific dimensions, appropriate preparation and additional protection of the roof, and specialized assembly. All of these aspects ultimately result in a high price.
In contrast to specialized roofs based on dedicated modules, integrated systems such as GSE In-Roof offer practical and economic advantages in addition to aesthetics. Compared to a traditional PV system mounted above the roof, GSE saves 18× in the roofing material, which significantly reduces cost, labor, and the carbon footprint. Thanks to similar in-roof solutions, traditional PV modules can be installed, regardless of the manufacturer. Therefore, dedicated production lines and special deliveries are not required. A possible future maintenance or repair of the panels, like after hail damage, can be carried out without any problems or risk of non-availability of a particular module, as in the case of systems with dedicated panels.
When it comes to the ability to generate electricity, integrated systems differ quite significantly. Some manufacturers have decided to produce dedicated modules. The colors that differ more from the typical color of silicon cells may look more appealing, but they produce less energy.
To obtain 1 kWp installations, you need a roof with an area of:
The simplest system is the one we all know. Every roofer in Europe knows how to install roof windows. Therefore, the easiest of these are solar tile systems, Viridian and GSE in-roof. They enable relatively easy and aesthetic integration with the above-mentioned roof windows and an assembly system which is intuitive for the roofers.
All systems will benefit from advances in photovoltaic technology. However, only the above in-roof systems benefit from commonly used modules in the residential and solar farm markets. And this means their greater availability, economies of scale, and competition, which has an obvious impact on the favorable price of the system.
Check out the list of pitched solar roof solutions below, mentioned in my integrated PV landscape:
Standard PV Modules
Systems that enable the installation of typical PV modules.
- GSE IN-ROOF — GSE Integration
- SOLARSTONE — Solarstone
- BRAAS PV INDAX — Monier
- nD-Indachsystem — Blue-energy-systems
- IRTFS — Irfts
- TRIROOF — Tritec
- IntegPV — Sunintegration
Dedicated PV Modules
Mounting systems with modules dedicated to a given system.
- SOLRIF — Solrif
- EMERGO — Emergo
- VIRIDIAN — Viridiansolar
- EXASUN X-roof — Exasun
- ETERNIT — Eternit
- SUNROOF — Sunroof
- ROBISOL — Bitile
- AERSPIRE — aerspire
- MEGASLATE — 3s-solarplus
- NICER — megasol
PV Roof Tiles
Mounting systems such as PV tile, PV slate.
- STAFIER /BRAAS PREMIUM — Stafiersolar
- SOLARSTONE — Solarstone
- SOLINSO — Solinso
- TESLA — Tesla Solar Roof
- CIGS ePower tile — epowertile
- EXASUN X-TILE — Exasun x-tile
- MATCH Tile — Megasol match
- SMARTROOF — Smartroof
- SUNSTYLE — www.sunstyle.com
- Enviro UK — Enviro
- Dyaqua — Dyaqua
Solar Metal Roofs
Mounting systems dedicated to integration with metal coverings.
- LINDAB SOLAR — Lindab-solarroof
- ROOFIT SOLAR — RoofitSolar
- RHEINZINK — RHEINZINK-PV
- KALZIP — Kalzip
- FLISOM — Flisom
- HELIATEK — Heliatek
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