A Tesla copycat? Certainly not — Exasun was in the solar roof tile business before Tesla. It also has what seems to be a cost-competitive, attractive, high-quality product on offer.
I visited the company’s headquarters and factory in Amsterdam last year during a cleantech tour Remco van der Horst arranged for me when I was in town for rEVolution 2017. I didn’t know what to expect exactly but walked in cautiously since CleanTechnica had covered BIPV stories for years and not seen many companies last for long or grow very big. That said, Remco has been following the industry longer than me and put some early-generation solar roof tiles on his home years ago, so I knew his recommendations meant a lot.
Oh, by the way, BIPV stands for building-integrated photovoltaics. Basically, it’s solar PV technology that’s built into the structure of a building — the walls, roof, or even windows.
There are a few cool things about the design of the Exasun BIPV tech. For one, they are super easy to install. You can see a super short demo in the second half of the interview below. It’s more like putting together LEGO blocks than doing actual construction. The easy and quick installation process helps to bring down the soft costs of rooftop solar.
Additionally, Jan Jaap Van Os noted in our chat that their roof tiles offer great ventilation, which can be a problem with rooftop solar and is an especially important design feature in a wet country like the Netherlands.
If you know solar PV tech a bit, you know that high heat actually reduces efficiency. You want sunlight hitting solar panels, but you don’t really want the heat that comes along with that light. Jan Jaap Van Os believes that Exasun is the only company in the world using a certain back-contact-on-glass technology to keep the heat down and the efficiency up. This technological approach also leads to lower electrical resistance and better durability.
Exasun got into normal solar PV production in 2011, but then the Chinese got into the game big time and costs dropped dramatically. Jan Jaap Van Os notes that solar modules did get cheaper but the quality and durability also dropped. Nonetheless, with a shift in the global market, Exasun also shifted. In 2015, it started producing its BIPV roof tiles.
The products on offer include Black Mystiek roof tiles, Black Glass modules, a full Black Roof, or a full Black Facade (a Black Roof turned into a wall, essentially). Pricing isn’t super straightforward, but there’s a kWh calculator on the site. Jan Jaap Van Os told me that getting Exasun’s BIPV solar roof was more cost competitive than getting a new roof plus a conventional solar PV installation. It’s unclear how closely an Exasun roof compares to a conventional solar installation on top of an existing roof, but the core points are that you can have a prettier, cleaner solar roof that matches the common tiled roof design of the region.
Sound familiar? Yep, that’s basically Tesla’s pitch with its solar roof tiles. We’ll see how fast Tesla and Exasun expand beyond their home bases, and where they eventually cross paths (if they do).
Exasun now has 20 MW of annual production capacity. It is only selling its solar roof tiles in the Netherlands for now, where there’s a lot of demand for the product. However, it aims to eventually move into the German, South African, and Turkish markets.