While Tesla continues to fiddle and futz with the Solar Roof it introduced in 2016 — that’s 5 1/2 years ago, according to our Radio Shack calculator — other companies have taken the idea and made it their own. One of them is GAF, one of the largest manufacturers of roofing products in North America. It also has an enormous network of roofing contractors — nearly 10,000 at last count.
GAF Energy was created as a separate business entity a few years ago to develop solar roof products, the first of which was DecoTech in 2020 that was sort of a hybrid between a normal roof and conventional solar panels. It didn’t sell very well, but the company has been working for the last two years to improve the product. Now it says it has created solar roof shingles that can be installed much like conventional shingles. There is a 3″ nailing strip along the top that is overlapped by the next shingle above when it is installed. Wiring is contained in a strip that runs up the side of the shingles once they are installed.
GAF Energy president Martin DeBono tells The Verge the new Timberline Solar shingles are the first to actually deserve that name because they’re the first that are actually installed the same way as a conventional roof shingle, reducing installation time to a day or two using the same size installation crew as a contractor would use for a normal roof.
“A number of companies have come out with what they call solar shingles, but they’re pretty much identical to regular solar panels, just small,” explains DeBono. He adds that previous solar roofs also required the installation of rails for the panels could be screwed to. Standard Industries, the parent company of GAF, has invested more than$1 billion to come up with this simpler shingle solution.
DeBono says the Timberline Solar shingles are the first products of their kind to receive UL’s 7103 certification to serve as both solar panels and construction materials. They consist of a special sandwich of glass, polysilicon solar cells, and a top layer of a proprietary fluorinated alkane ethylene polymer that’s fire resistant, impact resistant, textured to be walkable, and yet also transparent enough to let light through. He says the solar shingles have a Class A fire rating and can withstand hail.
DeBono tells the Washington Post the new GAF solar roof shingles cost less than a new roof and a separate rooftop solar system. Using his own home as an example, a new roof with a 6 kW rooftop solar system would cost about $44,000 after all available incentives. By comparison, a new roof using GAF solar shingles with the same 6 kW capacity would have a net cost of $30,000 — a saving of $14,000. That cost difference will go a long way toward making a GAF Energy solar roof cost effective for homeowners. The shingles are about 22% efficient — which is close to the same efficiency as the best solar panels — and come with a 25-year warranty from GAF.
“It’s flush, it’s cool and you get all the power you need. But there are risks,” Cherif Kedir, president of the Renewable Energy Test Center, tells the Washington Post. One risk, he says, is that “you have a product that is in direct contact with your roof,” which can lead to heat management issues. Traditional solar modules have air gaps that allow air to circulate beneath them. The solar shingles do not. That means the shingles may get hotter, which could reduce their efficiency and also potentially make it harder to keep the inside of a home cool.
“The main challenge is convincing me it’s going to last,” says David Fenning, director of the Solar Energy Innovation Laboratory at the University of California at San Diego. Even with a warranty, he said, “no one wants problems with their roofs.”
The GAF Energy Timberline solar shingles are being manufactured in San Jose, California, at a factory with an annual capacity of 50 megawatts — enough for about 8,300 homes assuming each has the capacity to generate about 6 kW of electricity. DeBono says this is just GAF Energy’s first manufacturing facility and that more will be coming in the future.
The solar shingles will be available exclusively from the more than 10,000 roofing contractors affiliated with GAF. They are available now on the East Coast of the United States and in Texas. Approval is pending in California and Florida, where the ability of the shingles to stand up to high winds is being tested. DeBono says it will take roughly 90 days for the solar shingles to be listed with the California Energy Commission and four to five months for the wind testing in Florida to be completed. The company plans to offer them in other states over the next three years and anticipates they will be included in 10% of the more than 1 million new roofs installed with GAF products every year.
DeBono says his worry isn’t whether the shingles will sell, it’s whether the company can keep up with demand. “It looks great, goes up fast, and it’s legit. We think that many people will choose now to go solar.” So far, the company has not published any information showing customers what the projected pay back time for solar shingle roofs, but if DeBono’s figures that suggest a 6 kW roof would only cost $6,000 more than a conventional roof are accurate, the shingles should pay for themselves in a few years, depending on the retail cost of electricity in the local area.
One fly in the ointment is a new policy in California that radically reduces the economic benefits of rooftop solar systems by imposing a surcharge on every kilowatt of capacity connected to the grid, along with other reduced incentives for rooftop solar. The solar industry is pushing back hard against the new rule, which executive editor Zachary Shahan calls “beyond stupid.” DeBono says, “What has been proposed would be the death of the solar industry in California, and that’s not hyperbole.”
Nevada tried the same idiotic approach a few years ago and saw the rooftop solar collapse within its borders as a result. It eventually reversed course under heavy pressure from the industry, but business has been slow to return to the Silver State. If California persists in its boneheaded policies, that will simply mean more GAF Energy Timberline solar shingles will be available for the rest of the country.
The GAF Energy shingles don’t look exactly like conventional roof shingles, but if they perform as advertised, most people won’t care. They are more attractive and cost less than a conventional rooftop system and that’s what’s important.
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