Solar panels help make the House by Northwestern energy-efficient.Photo from Northwestern University

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When students building Northwestern’s entry into this years Department of Energy Solar Competition research-ed solar panels to run their house, they chose GAF Industries for the roof and Solar World for the panels. That is because GAF engineers have developed a new product called DecoTech which provides special fasteners and interconnected wiring for solar panels that eliminate the bulky frames that used to be needed to mount the panels on roofs. GAF is a manufacturer of roofing materials in North America and DecoTech is its latest roof-integrated solar system. GAF is donating all roofing materials, solar panels and labor to House By Northwestern (HBN).

Once installed on HBN, the 6.5 kw panel array will produce more than enough electricity to run the entire house. Energy produced by the house will charge the electric car. Sunlight is converted to electricity even on cloudy days. Battery storage at this point lasts about one day and is one of the reasons consumers remain connected to the “grid.” Engineers and entrepreneurs are committed to finding ways to store the excess energy the sun produces. Currently existing storage capacity is able to run the house over short periods of time. Backup remains connected to the grid and few residential solar installations are entirely disconnected.

For anyone considering solar for their own homes, Bill Bach, student project manager, points out an encouraging trend toward homeowners’ learning how solar panels can save them money after tax credits and a variety of local, state and utility credits. As consumers better understand the benefits of solar energy conversion, more manufacturers will develop even newer materials and enter the space.

But do not wait for that to happen. As Mr. Bach says, “If you’re just going to wait for the next big thing, you are always going to be waiting.”  He adds,  “The best case scenario for homeowners is to do this conversion at the time you replace your roof.” New construction will certainly embrace this new technology which eliminates the need for cumbersome roof-top rack mounts and solves a vexing problem with rodents as well. With panels fastened directly to the roof there is no place for creatures to hide.

After typing “Project Sunroof” into a web browser, one arrives at a Google site that will ask for a street address. Typing it in provides a link to a Google map display of the homeowner’s roof as well as an estimate of how many square feet of space the house has optimally available for energy capture.

Solar panels are not dependent on heat, but on light, which is free as the sunshine.  

HBN’s goal is to make the house both energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing and using GAF and Solar World technology and panels accomplishes that goal better than any other way of mounting panels to a roof currently on the market.

The solar revolution points toward infinite energy sustainability. It is also fostering a spirit of collaborative thinking and partnerships, the same building blocks necessary for human success.