Executive Director, Renewable Energy Division, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center
One of the major questions that businesses have when they think about installing solar is “What will it do to my roof?” In the past, building owners got one answer: “Make sure it doesn’t violate your roof warranty.” Although most commercial solar systems these days come with a guarantee, this was still enough to make some people think twice, and rightly so.
But where some roofing companies saw a problem, Brian Whelan, Senior Vice President of Sika Sarnafil, a thermoplastic roofing and waterproofing membrane manufacturer in Canton, saw a business opportunity. Sika Sarnafil is testing different types of solar installations on the company’s own roof at its warehouse facility to learn more about best practices for integrating solar with the roofing system. Sika Sarnafil plans to offer customers a combined system – roofing and solar. Problem solved.
“I believe that the future of roofing includes solar,” Whelan said. “Ten years from now, roofing manufacturers are going to be offering integrated solar as a product, and all our customers will be able to put their roofs to work for them.” The company has already developed an EnergySmart® reflective roofing membrane to work with rooftop solar installations. The highly reflective surface helps to keep the roof surface cooler, improving photovoltaic cell efficiency. A portion of the reflected sunlight can also be captured by the solar panels, generating additional electricity.
Sika Sarnafil has completed the installation of the first phase of a planned total of four systems in Canton to show customers firsthand the capabilities and benefits of different solar roofing systems so that they can make more informed decisions about solar technology for their buildings.
“Sustainability is an important issue with many of our customers, and that often involves the installation of green roofs and solar generating technology,” added Whelan. “We want to show our customers different options and help them with the complicated process of deciding on solar technology.”
The solar systems were designed, engineered and installed by Greenskies Renewable Energy LLC with the assistance of a $285,000 rebate from MassCEC’s Commonwealth Solar I rebate program. Phase I of the project is complete and includes two different solar array systems that you can follow online – Sharp solar modules and Solyndra modules. They are connected to the grid with two made-in-Massachusetts Solectria inverters. The current system will displace approximately 37 percent of the building’s entire electric usage and 82 percent of its peak power requirements.
And there’s more savvy business sense at work – through an innovative power purchase agreement, Sika Sarnafil will have no out-of-pocket capital costs for the project. Greenskies owns and maintains the panels and sells the power to Sika Sarnafil at a discount to the price of utility power. Lt. Governor Tim Murray, who was on hand for the company’s ribbon-cutting, noted that this sort of progressive business thinking is what Massachusetts manufacturers are known for: "Our administration appreciates this company's environmental leadership and their continuing efforts to demonstrate technologies that not only save resources and energy, but also create jobs and stimulate our economy."