Environment

Joining the Bandwagon: Cheap Alternatives to Tesla’s Solar Roof

With all the noise Tesla’s solar roof is making, people can’t wait to get their hands on the latest clean technology. However, many are daunted by the price – a $21.85 per square foot sure costs a lot. What many don’t know is that there are other companies and start-ups that offer similar products at a more affordable rate.

Many blogs and websites offer downright conflicting calculations, and numerous consumers express their incapacity or hesitations. A lot of considerations are necessary before the solar roof can be installed, and if the finances are the main obstacles, might just opt for more affordable alternatives. So what options are there for those who wish to make a green lifestyle change?

Solar Tarps

The cost of this innovative and stylish solar roof can get heavy literally and financially, so you might want to consider the lighter and cheaper “solar tarps.” These are still in the works by a team of researchers from Cambridge, MIT, Oxford, Bath and Delft universities, spearheaded by Sam Stranks.

The main concern they wish to address aside from the pricy cost is the weight. In their interview with Inverse, Stranks claims that 40% of commercial roofs in the US can’t bear the weight of silicon panels. From there, they develop another mineral that can be just as efficient yet inexpensive and lightweight: perovskite.

While this innovation isn’t entirely new, there had been difficulties in developing the mineral’s electron-trapping structure. In Stranks’ case, he claims that his team has finally found the solution to this issue, referring to the “right combination of light and humidity” to “heal” the material.

Despite the progress they’re making, Stranks said they need more simulations before they can mass-produce the product. This advancement is undoubtedly hard to ignore. In fact, many energy companies support the commercialization of perovskite solar-energy savers.

Forward Labs

Tesla’s solar roofing is a system of integrating solar-energy inducting materials into the roof. However, the energy company isn’t the first to introduce this product into the market.

Come Forward Labs, re-introducing their monocrystalline solar roof metal panels. Compared to Tesla’s $21.85 per square foot solar tiles, Forward  Labs offers theirs at $8.50 per square foot plus the $3.25 per watt for the PV. That’s about $120 per square meter compared to Tesla’s $220 per square meter. The installation is just as fast as installing ordinary solar roofs.

It also has a built-in cooling system. According to the Forward Labs video on Inhabitat, the panels are installed with a gap above the roof deck to allow air to pass through. In case there’s panel damage, the broken portion can be replaced easily. Possible issue with the Home Owner’s Association is also quite unlikely as these panels are pretty identical to other metal roofs.

At the moment, they’re looking into integrating solar into asphalt shingles to recycle used ones.

Thin-Film PV Solar Panels

As the name suggests, you need not install bulky and heavy solar panels on your roof when you have a lightweight alternative. In addition, installation costs you less money and less time, making it a practically cost-efficient option.

This solar power is made with any of the following technologies, according to Energy Sage:

Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) – The most widely used TF technology, CdTe holds roughly 50% of the market share for thin film solar panels. CdTe contains significant amounts of Cadmium – an element with relative toxicity – so this is a factor of consideration. First Solar is the top innovator and seller in this space.

Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) – The second most popular TF option after CdTe, a-Si is the most similar technology to that of a standard silicon wafer panel. a-Si is a much better option than its counterparts (CdTe, CIGS) in terms of toxicity and durability, but it is less efficient and is typically used for small load requirements like consumer electronics. The quest for scale is always a hindrance for a-Si.

Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) – Laboratory CIGS cells have reached efficiency highs of 22.3%. However, these performance metrics are not yet possible at scale. The primary manufacturer of CIGS cells was Solyndra (which went bankrupt in 2011). Today, the leader is Solar Frontier.

Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) – A very expensive technology, GaAs holds a world record 28.8% efficiency for all single-junction solar cells. GaAs is primarily used on spacecraft and is meant for versatile, mass-scale installments of PV energy in unusual environments.

This option may require you less, but there are health considerations to bear in mind when using thin-film solar panels. Since the main component is Cadmium, a known carcinogen, it poses a health hazard to anyone with frequent, close contact.

Printed Solar Panels

With all the noise on solar technology, the University of Newcastle in Australia announced their own innovation last year: the printed solar panels.

Pretty much similar to the thin-film panels but what makes these panels stand out is that they’re printed using electronic inks. Paul Distoor, head of the team of researchers developing the film, told Mashable they’re on the final stage of testing the printed films.

He further claims that though the crystalline panel prices are going down, they’re still quite costly for many Australians. Not only are the printed films cheap, they also “outperform solar photovoltaics panels in low light, and could prove to be more cost-efficient than fossil fuels.” His team is aiming for the price of US$7.42 per square meter.

Another thumbs up for this material for its recyclability. That’s another bonus point to all nature-lovers out there!

While it’s ideal to switch to a more sustainable and renewable source of energy for the sake of environment conservation, there are several aspects to look at before taking a dive, investing big bucks.

It’s still best to consult your roofing contractor for the best material with all factors taken into consideration. Besides, they can see things our eyes can’t, thanks to their experience and in-depth knowledge on the most efficient, durable and inexpensive option in your area.

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Abigail A. Sabijon is a full-time blogger and editor of scoopfed.com and a part-time cat-lover. She's a Bachelor of Arts and Literature graduate, and she enjoys discussing and writing about everything under the sun.

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