Rooftop-integrated solar gaining traction in Cali

CNET’s News.com has a story about growing interest in and uptake of rooftop-integrated solar “tiles” in California, where more and more home developers are building with the product. I can’t wait to see the rooftop- or building-integrated market explode. Elk Roofing, which is testing out similar product from Photowatt Technologies (i.e. ATS Automation’s Spheral Solar unit), has been very pleased with the quality and performance and is reportedly very close to getting this technology out to key customers.

“The product looks good. It installs well. It’s producing electricity, and, you know, we’re moving closer,” Elk chief executive Tom Karol told analysts on a conference call on April 26. “We think there’s a good opportunity and we’ve got to get our part to the market as fast as we can.”

Integrating PV cells into roofing and other building products is key to lowering the cost of the technology, because installation and roofing expenses must be paid for anyway regardless of whether the customer chooses solar or not. Combined with incentives offered in places such as California, the attraction is difficult to deny.

Solar energy report: Crossing the $1 per watt barrier

Tom Astle from National Bank Financial has put out a “solar for dummies” report that I found quite useful as a summary of how solar PV works, the economics, who are the players, and where the market is heading.

One interesting comment: “If the solar market continues to grow at more than 20 per cent and the benefits from volume continue to be found, it is predicted that the cost of solar module power could drop below $1/Watt within the next 15 to 20 years.” Then in brackets, Astle adds: “We think it could be sooner.”

He cites current prices being $3 to 3.50 per Watt. He said if the modules fell to $1/Watt and you assumed another $1/Watt for balance of plant and installation, “solar power could become cost competitive with baseload generation at $0.10/kWhr or less.”

That, against the backdrop of rising fossil fuel prices, looks pretty damn encouraging.

Astle, who I remember from his days of providing analyst coverage for the telecom sector (and that sick puppy Nortel), also predicts some major industry consolidation come 2008.

“According to our estimates, the capacity of solar producers is set to increase well in excess of silicon supply. Once that silicon supply bottleneck is fixed in 2008, we can expect a price war for solar modules and solar cells,” he writes. “We suspect that industry players have two years to get it right before competitive pressure mounts. Investors should watch this closely.”

Interesting days ahead. You can find a link to the National Bank solar report through Carmanah Technologies’ Web site. Click here.

Speaking of silicon, if you think the solar IPO market is cooling off, then look at this public offering from Norway’s Renewable Energy Corp., which boasts being the biggest maker of solar-grade silicon and multi-crystalline wafers. It also makes solar cells and modules.

REC’s shares skyrocketed on their first day of trading this week, giving the company a market value of nearly $10 billion. The IPO was 15 times oversubscribed.