Integrated solar panels are flush with the roof

Sollos director Don Holley feels like he’s up against a brick wall. When he was in the UK in 2019 he saw integrated roof solar panels everywhere. Entire estates.

The old mining city of Nottingham has been pretty much converted to a green city such is the scope of their love affair with solar, he says.

But – and here’s the clincher – Holley dares to say the unsayable: solar panels are ugly. Hmmm, some might agree. But certainly not with the same anti-sustainability vehemence used to attack wind farms. But on pure aesthetic grounds you’d have to agree: they do tend to look very alike and that’s from a standing start of very little character to begin with.

What Holley saw in the UK though made him do a double-take. The solar panels he noticed so many of were integrated into the roof, so no unsightly protrusions. Discrete placement into the roofline.

The technology is called built in solar voltaic (BIPV).

He and two other people in his company are now trying to roll out the technology in Australia.

He’s managed to secure the distribution rights but not yet the big contracts that would see this sensible tweak on the now traditional solar panels become widespread. And no particular cause for note.

He and his small team have been banging on the doors of the big developers to no avail.

Among the more agile smaller or private developers things are better. He’s had an installation completed at Turramurra on Sydney’s upper north shore and a “massive” home in Perth plus a couple in Canberra.

And in even better news people are searching for BIPV on Google.

In Melbourne at RMIT associate professor Rebecca Yang is leading a project called Building Integrated Photovoltaics for Creative and Sustainable Urban Design to investigate the potential for BIPV modules to be modified in colour and appearance, “which has opened up a whole new avenue in creative, innovative and sustainable designs,” her project introduction says.

“The colored and patented solar panels form a paradigm shift in solar applications because of its aesthetic appeal and power generating attributes.” 

That sounds terrific Holley says but for the general population it would be excellent to get the basics in BIPV underway.

In façade treatment Holley says, “we’re way behind”.

So how does it work?

“Like a traditional solar panel it has integrated aluminium flashing and it replaces part of the roof rather than placing materials on top of it – about $350 a square metre including all the materials and the flashing.”

Part installed integrated solar panel

The panels themselves are the same cost as high quality upper end panels. 

“And by the time you pay for the racking and the labor for those the cost ends up roughly the same.

Unless you’re doing a mansion with a build cost of around $10 million in Perth. In that job, the 66 panels installed came in at $50,000 which does not sounds so much compared with the cost of a smaller install on a house.

The total output for this will be 22 kilowatts. But this compares to the slate that owner is using on the roof that comes in at around $300 a square metre compared to the panels that come in at around $350 a sq m before Clean Energy Council government rebates .”

Holley is keen to grow the business, both in contracts and jobs on the books. In a year’s time he hopes to have double the staff. For Australia, he says, the big question is when it decides it wants to join the rest of the world.

Cost-wise there’s little difference when you take into consideration the cost of roofing materials and labour, Holley says.

Sollos director Don Holley

There is good reason too for the government to get behind the rollout and mandate some outcomes, Holley says, because right now there are different builders doing different things. He points to the old historic town of Morpeth near Maitland in the Hunter Valley where he says new houses in the town have loads of “ugly solar” on the roof.

But the influence has to come from the government and the big developers.

So how did Holley get into this gig?

His background is as a management consultant working on the more creative side of leadership such as mindset – the place where big changes can be initiated in an organisation.

And when you think about it, it’s pretty much what he’s doing now.

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