If you haven’t heard about Elon Musk's recent announcements about Tesla and Solar City’s new solar photovoltaic (PV) roof tile, you must have been living under a rock for the last little while.
It took everyone by surprise, not just because no one expected it, but because it is so good looking in its various design variants. Beyond that, the tiles themselves are toughened glass with what appears to be a metallic sputter coat that makes them directionally opaque but transparent to the sun, so you literally don’t easily see the silicone cell component. A passing view offers a view only of funky looking rough or smooth notched slate patterns or a traditional Mediterranean tile shape. It just look like roofing, yet it generates electricity.
Musk says that the cost wont be “any more than a traditional roof plus electricity,” whatever that means; we will need to wait and see.
But even though the new Tesla product has created the first ever international buzz about a solar roof tile, they are by no means the first or indeed the sexiest. The Australian developed solar roof tile Tractile has been the leading ‘local’ incumbent for some years. Winner of multitudinous Australian and international design and product awards, Tractile managing director Jason Perkins has had the tenacity of a bulldog in trying to get the Australian market to adopt such innovation. The Tractile product in many ways puts the Tesla product in the shade because of its superior levels of function.
Tesla may be the new market hotshot story, and be doing a great job in expanding the market awareness of this product category, but it is sort of a one-trick pony.
Trac Group Holdings’ Tractile (and others) offer much more. One thing about hot climates is that PVs suffer in their performance when they get hot. Tractile is a high performance plastic composite (HPPC) product that has a water jacket embedded behind the PVs to cool them down and keep them operating at higher efficiencies – 10 to 20 per cent more efficient in fact.
Now if you can put two and two together, you have realised that by cooling the PVs, the water is getting hot. When you connect this to a tank, voila! You have a hot water collection system as well.
Furthermore, Tractile’s high performance composite is incredibly strong and the tiles are unique in that they interlock and become a single integrated highly wind, storm and impact resistant roof surface also capable of withstanding high uplift loads. Their multiple Australian Design Awards and International Gold Innovation Award are testament to the high level of Innovation that Tractile delivers.
CSR Monier has a solar roof tile as well. Theirs is also a regular silicone PV cell mounted to a sleek looking roof tile and well-integrated. Like Tractile and unlike Tesla, the PV cell, while design integrated, is nonetheless reasonably distinguishable from the rest of the roof.
Monier’s solar tile is said to be ‘built to take a beating from the elements…hail-proof and strong enough to be walked on like any other tile.’ But knowing the strength of conventional roof tiles, that may not be saying much in comparison to the Tesla tile and especially not compared to Tractile.
Now a whole new product is considering entering the Australian market. This time it’s a panelised and PV-coated aluminium composite roof replacement system that also has embedded PV cooling and hot water generation. While the brand and details are currently being kept under wraps, this company is well established in the UK and is now moving into Southeast Asia and looking at Australia. It has a metal roof aesthetic and will suit commercial as well as residential stuctures, and it would likely be stronger and more storm resistant than Tesla and Monier products.
One thing we can say is that when we look at the dramatic changes taking place in the energy generating roof cladding space, combined with all the exciting battery storage announcements that are seemingly coming out almost weekly at the moment, it’s a very exciting and highly transitional time.
We are literally seeing the world of energy generation changing in front of our eyes, and the future is microgrid solar storage systems. The utility companies must be scrambling at the moment. Their business model is disappearing before their eyes, and if they don’t get in on the action very soon (and many of them are) they will be left in the dirt with a very short and grubby future.
Grab your front row seat and gird your loins for action, as its going to be up to many of you to grab these opportunities with both hands and run with them.