When a couple in El Cerrito, Calif., wanted to give their 1960s ranch an update five years ago, they asked Ohashi Design Studio in Emeryville, Calif., to include high-performance energy upgrades that blend with the architecture. This task was made challenging when the couple also requested a photovoltaic system as part of its program. Architect Alan Ohashi, AIA, solved the problem with self-adhered thin-film photovoltaic strips that were applied between the ridges of the new standing seam metal roof.

At the time Ohashi had to approach two suppliers to get the solar roof he wanted, but today that would be unnecessary. As solar continues to grow in popularity, more roofing manufacturers are integrating cells with their product, creating one-stop shopping for design professionals.

The idea of integrating solar with building products is not exactly new, but its use had been limited until recently. So-called building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are thin-film solar cells that have been applied to a material, such as glass. Because of manufacturing advancements, roofing companies are integrating BIPV into their products and supplying them off-the-shelf. The technology is unobtrusive in appearance, and the materials are less expensive than traditional solar panels and offer flexible installation.

all systems go

At the International Builders’ Show in January, Valley Forge, Pa.–based CertainTeed Corp. entered the solar roofing category with EnerGen, a system that integrates Uni-Solar thin-film laminates from Energy Conversion Devices in Rochester Hills, Mich. The black solar shingles seamlessly merge with the manufacturer’s asphalt, so once they’re installed, they sit flush with the roof and differ only in color.

“CertainTeed is transforming a niche technology into a product that is more accessible to the building industry and, therefore, a broader range of homeowners,” said Guillaume Texier, president of the company’s roofing division, at the product’s launch. “EnerGen is the first step in what will be a comprehensive portfolio of photovoltaic roofing products for residential and commercial applications.”

But CertainTeed is not the only the company taking this approach. Midland, Mich.–based Dow Chemical Co. also is throwing its hat in the ring with Powerhouse Solar Shingle, a thin-film PV system that, like EnerGen, is woven into standard asphalt.

While asphalt is the recent comer, concrete tile manufacturers got into the solar act first. Eagle Roofing Products in Rialto, Calif., partnered with Suntech Power to produce the Eagle Solar Roof with SolarBlend, a system that maintains a similar design aesthetic as a tile roof. And Corona, Calif.–based US Tile, which has partnered with SRS Energy, claims that its Solé Power Tile system was “the first truly integrated solar solution in the nation.” Designed to seamlessly meld with the manufacturer’s Mission profile clay tiles, Solé installs like a standard piece of tile.

For architects who aren’t interested in asphalt, clay, or concrete but still want integrated solar, metal companies offer a solution as well. Last year, Custom-Bilt Metals in Chino, Calif., unveiled FusionSolar, a thin-film solar laminate integrated with standing-seam metal roofing. The system comes with all the necessary components, detailed schematics, and specifications for wiring and electrical components that an electrical subcontractor needs for installation. And back in 2007, EnergyPeak (a partnership between CENTRIA Services Group, and Uni-Solar) introduced a solar-integrated standing seam product.