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Open Energy's Solar Building Materials Draw Crowds at Greenbuild

GREENBUILD -- Building-integrated solar, or BIPV, has caught attendees' attention at the Greenbuild 2006 Conference and Expo. Open Energy, a relatively new company in the space, is exhibiting three types of BIPV for roofs and windows. Their solar building materials are of particular interest to the large audience of LEED-accredited architects here. Open Energy's Howard Gomes talks with us about their products and the return on investment in various parts of the U.S. and the world. (podcast) (photos)

Howard Gomes explains Open Energy's solar building materials to architects at Greenbuild 2006.


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Building-integrated solar

The LEED green building standards include points for renewable energy. While not a strong incentive, it encourages commercial building designers to at least consider adding solar modules to the roof. This is not lost on several solar power companies who are exhibiting this week at Greenbuild 2006.

One of them is a relatively new company called Open Energy. Their products are building materials in three categories: commercial flat-roof PV in a single-ply membrane; a residential solar roofing tile; and photovoltaic architectural glass with solar cells laminated inside.

Open Energy's architectural solar glass has modules laminated inside the glass. Architects can specify the details of their windows, which are made to order.

This podcast is an interview with Howard Gomes of Open Energy, recorded on the show floor during Greenbuild 2006. Here's a brief summary of our conversation.

What's different about these solar modules?

Conventional solar modules require something to keep them on the roof -- either fastening to the roof, or ballast to weight them down. When the solar modules are integrated into the building material, concerns about roof penetrations and roof loads are alleviated. And with the strong movement toward green building and LEED certification, solar glass makes a statement about a building.

What's the ROI?

Even though solar is a building material, it's also an energy source and needs to make financial sense to an owner. The return on investment depends largely on location. The considerations are the cost of energy and the available incentives.

If the local cost of energy is high -- 28 to 30 cents per kWh -- no incentives are needed to justify a solar investment, according to Gomes. For supportive states with typical energy costs, the payback is about seven years; it's 10 or 12 years in moderately supportive states; and where there's no program, the payback is 20 years or more, Gomes says.

Which states are most supportive of solar?

California is of course the poster child of subsidies for clean energy, and represents about 70 percent of the U.S. market for solar. Gomes says that New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Hawaii, and Oregon are supportive; Arizona, Nevada and Florida are also coming online with subsidies.

Where are the solar opportunities worldwide?

Open Energy sells only in the U.S. and Canada, but Gomes notes that the strong growth opportunities for solar are in Germany and Japan, both being larger markets than the U.S. Other progressive countries are Spain, Italy and Portugal.


Dear Sir or Madam:

Mr. Gomes forgot to mention China will be a big player in solar. According to Economist magazine prediction, China will rank number 2 in terms of solar product in two to three years. I think it warrants some attention.