I listened in on an earnings conference call this morning for building supplies giant Elk Corp., which for two years now has had a partnership with ATS Automation’s Spheral Solar. The two are planning commercial release of solar-integrated roofing and building material products.
Elk Roofing chairman and CEO Tom Karol, responding to questions from MacMurray Whale from Sprott Securities, said the Spheral Solar roofing product is still in alpha testing but the company hopes to move into beta testing — i.e. put it on real rooftops in the marketplace — in about 60 days. After the results of the beta are analysed, and assuming all goes well, the product will be fully commercialized in the first quarter of 2007.
“It’s something we’re very excited about, but we’re also very cautious,” said Karol, adding that Elk is committed to Spheral Solar’s technology but is keeping abreast of other technologies in the market.
Karol emphasized how dedicated Elk is to solar-integrated building products. “We would love to be out and into the market with our product today,” he said. “It is a hot market, and will be for the next 20 years at least, and we want to make sure we can carve out a niche in that business. We’re not where we’d like to be, but we’re chomping at the bit to get our product to market.”
Asked whether there has been any setbacks, he said the two companies have fallen about two months behind schedule — not a huge delay. But when Elk does eventually place its first commercial order with Spheral, Karol indicated it would be a big one.
“We believe we can essentially sell all into the marketplace that they can make,” he said, pointing out that integrating solar into building materials offers better value for customers.
I’m not surprised that Karol is getting impatient, given the types of federal subsidies being offered in the United States for installing solar PV systems, and perhaps more important, the passing of California’s ambitious solar initiative
What this means for observers of ATS’s Solar Group — which could soon be spun off from its parent — is that all product that comes out of Spheral Solar’s facility is essentially already spoken for. That is, the product is sold before it’s even been produced.
Now that’s the kind of certainty that investors like.
(Note: Spheral Solar, of course, isn’t the only company going after the building-integrated PV roofing market. Solar Integrated Technologies Inc., for example, has already completed 39 industrial solar roofing projects in 2005. Clearly, the market is poised to heat up.)