Solar Metal Roofing – How to Make your Metal Roof work for you!

In this solar roofing guide you will learn about the pros and cons of metal roofing with laminated thin-film PV panels such as the ones manufactured by Uni-Solar Ovonics, or simply UniSolar, which is an Energy Conversion Devices company/brand.

UniSolar thin-film solar panels have been specifically designed to be installed with a standing seam metal roof and have a nominal width of 15.5 inches, which fits perfectly onto a 16″ standing seam panel. With a special butyl adhesive backing, the installation of thin-film solar panels is very simple and fast.

Watch how the the solar metal roof is installed and how free electricity is produced right away:

Benefits of Solar Metal Roofing and Roof-Integrated Solar Systems

Installing a solar metal roof is the most cost effective way to get a lifetime roof together with a solar PV system. The savings come from the fact that the installation of a solar power system is greatly simplified, because there is no need to install the racking system, which is needed to hold your conventional solar panels. This saves you about $1 (one dollar) per watt DC of solar system, and eliminates an additional $0.50 per watt for the installation of the racking system and solar panels. With thin-film solar PV laminates, the installation is reduced to cleaning the inside of the metal roof panels, applying and rolling in the PV laminate and installing the metal roofing panels.

Later, when all the standing seam metal roofing panels have been installed, the solar integrator connects the mom and pop contacts on each solar panel to form one, two or more strings of solar panels, and runs the wiring down to the inverter, which then converts the DC power from solar panels into AC power at 240 volts and feeds the electricity into your home’s power network. All excess electricity is sent into the grid (for grid-tied solar systems), or to your storage batteries (for off-grid systems).

Installation of Solar Metal Roofing

Why use a Roof-Integrated Solar System vs. Conventional Solar Panels?

The main problem associated with general solar PV systems that you can now see on many homes around the country, is the fact that an asphalt shingles roof will fail much sooner than the PV solar panels. When that happens, those homeowners will be faced not only with the re-roofing expense, but also with complete removal re-installation of the solar array. This MUST be performed by both the roofer and the solar integrator, as the roofer alone will 99% of the time screw things up. And bear in mind that a roofing warranty will usually not cover damages to the solar equipment, let alone all the possible short-circuit type situations.

Solar Metal Roof Installation Video:

The additional cost associated with these procedures should be at-least the same as the cost of the new roof itself. Think about it: Electricians unlike roofers have to be licensed. An apprentice electrician needs at-least 4 years of schooling/work experience. This is like an undergraduate degree. A master electrician needs another 4 years. Therefore, electricians usually charge $75-100 per man-hour. You’ll need at least two electricians for this job, which will take a whole day to remove the panels and another day to put them back, if not more.

The math is simple: 2 guys * $75/h * 8 hrs. * 2 days = $2400 plus any possible parts and supplies that may be required. So let’s say it costs you $2500 extra. In some parts of the country that is how much an average 1200 sq. ft. cape house roof will cost to install (materials included).

Thin Film Solar Panel Installation Video:

Metal Roofs vs. Asphalt Shingles

Unlike the very “popular” asphalt shingles, metal roofs are pretty much permanent. They are for the most part manufactured from recycled metals, and when installed by a trained professional, they will not leak for decades.

Metal roofs combined with Renewable Energy technologies can create an ideal, long lasting and affordable solution for residential Solar Electric and Solar Hot Water needs.

Solar electric, hot water and heating

There are other numerous benefits to having a metal roof combined with Solar PV and other renewable energy technologies. When looking at a metal roof vs. asphalt shingles, also consider that a metal roof will save our landfills from getting more shingles dumped there in 10 years or so. With metal, you get a beautiful, permanent roofing solution that you can combined with a solar system, and if you choose to add a Geothermal system, you can design a 100% energy-free home!

US Government Policy: Fossil Fuels vs Renewable Energy

While renewable energy has made impressive strides in the US over the last couple of years, the reality is that we continue to live under a government that is actually not vested in seeing renewable energy take off, and continues to remain an avid supporter of fossil fuels. Our politicians go where the money is, and while there is great promise and potential in renewable energy, the killer profit is still in the oil, coal and gas industries.

image of Fossil Fuel emissions

The danger in this situation is that supporting fossil fuels not only hurts our environment, it creates a none-level playing field for the developing renewables industry. In addition to the fact that globally the fossil fuel industry gets subsidies of around $400 billion annually, while renewables get only around $60 billion, private investors also take cue from government policy. Wavering government support both in the US and Europe has made private investors wary of investing into renewable energy, because at the end of the day they want to realize maximum profits with minimal risks. From that perspective, the fossil fuel industry (movie FUEL), which continues to be heavily supported by governments worldwide, remains to be a highly attractive investment opportunity. This combined lack of investment and government support make it next to impossible for the renewable energy industry to become competitive with the heavily subsidized and more mature fossil fuel industry. And yet this is the miracle that the world expects the renewable energy industry to deliver.

Perhaps, the saddest part of the story is that the American public is often misled to believe that renewable energy is at best not viable, and at worst actually wastes taxpayer dollars and contributes to loss of jobs. Popular media outlets tend to emphasize problems and failures in the renewable energy sector, while giving very little air time to the industry’s many successes. If renewable energy is to have any real future in this country, the government needs to be on board, and the citizens need to be informed to demand action from the people in power who represent them.

US government supports fossil fuel industry

We castigate many countries like China for their polluting production practices and lax environmental laws, and yet without blinking an eye, the American government subsidizes the most polluting fossil fuel industry and completely lets it off the hook for a number of environmental costs, which include toxic waste in our water. A fossil fuel subsidy is any policy that lowers the cost of fossil fuel energy production, increases the price received by energy producers or lowers the price paid by energy consumers. Overall, subsidies to the domestic fossil fuel industry are estimated to be around $10 billion plus annually.

Subsidies currently in place include tax breaks and giveaways, loans at favorable rates, price controls, purchase requirements and more. It is important to note that the largest subsidies to fossil fuels are written into the U.S. Tax Code as permanent provisions. On the other hand, many subsidies for renewables are time-limited initiatives implemented through energy bills, all of which have expiration dates that limit their effectiveness in helping the renewables industry grow. It is no wonder that renewable energy cannot compete with fossil fuels, given such blatant favoritism for the latter in our government policy.

It begs the question why one of the wealthiest industries in the world needs such heavy subsidies? Last year, the three biggest U.S. oil companies took home more than $80 billion in profit. Whenever the price of oil goes up, and prices at the pump go up, and every American family’s budget is strained, the oil companies make a killing. Research shows that every time gas goes up by a penny, these companies usually pocket another $200 million in quarterly profits. Meanwhile, oil companies pay a lower tax rate than most other companies on their investments, partly because they are getting billions in tax giveaways every year.

President Obama’s efforts to decrease subsidies for fossil fuel companies have been shut down by the Republican – controlled – House. In his most recent call to cut subsidies to fossil fuel companies because they are perfectly able to stand on their own, Obama proposed the roughly $2 billion a year in tax breaks and subsidies for oil companies to be used as a source of revenue for clean energy development. The procedural vote of 51-47, which failed to reach the needed threshold of 60 in favor, killed the measure.

At the same time, “green” US companies have to struggle and get leftovers from the BIG-Oil table, and very promising innovations such as Electric Vehicles, Algae, Bio-Fuels, etc. are left in the dust.

Obama criticized for supporting domestic renewable energy industry

While the Obama administration has been particularly supportive of the renewable energies industry, providing it with generous subsidies and opportunities for growth and development as part of pursuing a diversified energy policy and creating more jobs in a struggling economy, the president has gotten slammed with criticism and negative press for his commitment to renewable energy. In fact, because of the 2012 presidential election, renewable energy has become a hot polarizing issue. The strings of bankruptcies declared by US solar manufacturers (many of whom were subsidized under the Obama administration), closing factories and lay-offs have been used by the Republicans as a beating stick against Obama every chance they get.

One such bankrupt solar company – Solyndra – which once used to be Obama’s poster child for American renewable energy industry success, has gotten the most bad press. The company has been investigated by a Congressional Republican Committee, and has publicly become synonymous with government waste. On his campaign trail, Mitt Romney paid a secret visit to Solyndra’s headquarters and gave a talk there accusing Obama of cronyism and misusing the taxpayers’ money to fund failing enterprises of the President’s friends. Overall, Republicans attack Obama’s energy policy, accusing it of contributing to high gas prices and stunting domestic oil development.

The truth is that a large part of American political class, which essentially includes the entire G.O.P., is deeply invested in the fossil fuel industry and derives massive profits from continuing their support. As a result, this political class is actively hostile to alternatives, using both direct political power, as well as indirect media influence to ensure that subsidies to the fossil fuel industry remain intact, while renewable energy lags behind as an “unrealistic” alternative. What we as citizens need to know is that while today our tax dollars go towards making more money for oil, gas and coal companies, our children will be paying a hefty price by having to deal with the grave environmental consequences of our decisions.

The Implications of Solyndra’s Scandal & Bankruptcy on Future US Renewable Energy Policy

image of Obama visiting Solyndra before bankruptcy For anybody keeping an eye on developments in the US solar industry, one thing is blatantly clear: solar industry and domestic renewable energy industry as a whole has become a hot political issue, fueled by the upcoming presidential election.

While President Obama saw the domestic renewable energy industry as paving the way for a cleaner environment, new jobs, new markets and investment opportunities, and a means to end our nation’s dependency on foreign oil, his efforts and policies have been vehemently criticized and opposed by the G.O.P. Solyndra’s case is a poignant example of the detrimental influence the current political climate has on the the renewable energy industry. The full implications of this trend in Washington are hard to predict, but they will certainly set US many steps behind in the global renewable energy race.

Solyndra’s bankruptcy case is made into a political issue and used against Obama in the 2012 presidential race

So why was Solyndra’s case made into a political scandal, in which Obama has been accused of wasteful, irresponsible spending of taxpayer’s money, that was allegedly used to help his cronies? Is there any truth to these allegations or are they all political propaganda cleverly manipulated by the Republicans in the presidential election race?

The reality is that the administration’s decisions in Solyndra’s case do seem to have political considerations, rather than pure economics in mind. As early as March of 2010, an independent audit by Price Waterhouse Coopers raised concerns whether Solyndra was financially viable. Similarly, internal administration emails reveal that administration staff and Obama’s allies in the venture capital world warned the White House that the company may not be a good investment.

However, despite these warning signs, Obama’s administration pressed on and administration officials pushed for the DOE to hasten its final decision on approving Solyndra’s loan just in time for Vice President Joe Biden to announce it on his planned trip to California. Obama also visited the company in a high-profile press event in May 2010, making an already troubled company an example of his successful energy and economic policy. Internal administration emails also reveal that to save face, the Energy Department convinced Solyndra to delay layoffs until after the 2010 midterm elections, according to those emails.

From private sources, the DOE was aware that the firm was in danger of bankruptcy, and in December 2010 Solyndra violated its federal loan deal terms by failing to make a payment on its loan. Despite this, the administration put in more effort and money into saving the company. In February 2011, the department restructured the loan, and found investors who provided Solyndra $75 million more in financing. One of the largest investors in Solyndra, who also backed this new loan, was George Kaiser (one of the biggest fundraising bundlers for Obama). Part of this deal was that private investors, would be paid back before the government if Solyndra collapsed.

So did Obama want to use Solyndra to help his own political agenda and public image in light of the upcoming election? It seems that the answer is YES. Was  it an economically misguided decision? YES. However, there is a lot of hypocrisy at play here: a renewable energy company’s ties to the administration are considered cronyism, but the fossil fuels companies’ ties to the G.O.P party and the previous Bush administration, which have afforded this industry lavish financial returns for decades pass with flying colors.

Understanding Solyndra’s case from the perspective of overall US energy policy

While Solyndra’s bankruptcy has been portrayed by most major media outlets as a political scandal, it is important to understand this case in light of the overall US energy policy. While the President has been accused of wasting taxpayers’ money during a recession, the reality is that the federal government actually spends a minimal amount on renewable energy, compared to other sectors. A 2009 American Energy Innovation Council Report states that the federal government spent only about $3 billion on energy research (which included help in commercializing the products for startup companies like Solyndra), compared with the lavish sums of $36.5 billion spent on the National Institutes of Health, and $77 billion spent on defense research. 

Moreover, taking a closer look at the Department of Energy’s 2005 Federal Loan Guarantees Program reveals that it backed close to $38 billion in loans for 40 projects around the country. Just a small fraction of these loans has been allocated to solar. In fact, the program’s largest beneficiary to date is an $8.33 billion loan guarantee for a nuclear plant in Georgia. Solyndra’s loan represents just 1.3 percent of the total program portfolio, but more significantly as of yet, it is the only loan that has soured.  Other solar beneficiaries, such as SunPower and First Solar, are still in business and doing well.

What is important to understand about this program is that it is specifically meant to allocate money to more than average risk startup companies, in which private investors would be too cautious to invest. This is the job that the government takes upon itself in propelling forward industries, such as renewable energy, that have a larger benefit to society than just financial profit. A job, that we as citizens need to be done.

What does it all mean? It means that while there may have been neglect and oversight on the part of the administration in analyzing Solyndra’s application for the loan, Obama’s administration can hardly be accused of cronyism and waste of money solely on the basis of one company’s failure. Numbers clearly show that this failure was an exception rather that a rule.

Politicizing Solyndra’s bankruptcy has potential to negatively affect the future growth and development of domestic renewable energy industry


Renewable energy industry in this country has a potential for growing and prospering only in the climate of stable government support. Federal policy not only directly aids the industry with financial incentives, but also signals to private investors that they can invest large amounts of capital into the industry. In previous years, US solar investments and support for the renewable energy industry in the US has been for the most part bipartisan, where both Republicans and Democrats saw renewable energy as being good for the country and for the environment in the long run. This mind set in Washington allowed President Obama to implement a number of important incentives programs such as the Production Tax Credit (PTC), the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and others,  that have tremendously helped the growth of both solar and wind sectors of the renewable energy industry.

A number of these key incentives are due to expire both at the end of 2012 and in 2013. In the current political climate, where renewable energy has become a deeply divisive issue for Republicans and Democrats, it is highly unlikely that these will be renewed.  Solyndra’s scandal has really added fuel to the fire, further denigrating the worthiness of the entire renewables industry, both in the eyes of Washington’s policy makers and the general public. A telling comment by Rep. Cliff Stearns, who chairs the oversight subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sums it all up:” Solyndra’s downfall proves that green energy isn’t going to be the solution”  (Washington Post). How these sentiments will dictate our nation’s future energy policy remains to be seen.

Benefits of Electric Vehicles (EV)

Are you tired of paying ridiculously high prices at the pump? Would it not be cool to do all of your daily driving without having to fill up at a gas station? Well, now this is becoming a reality for people who drive electric vehicles, also known as EVs.

What is an Electric Vehicle?

image of Tesla Model-S EV

Electric vehicles are propelled by an electric motor (or motors) powered by rechargeable battery packs. The batteries transfer energy to an electric motor, the motor turns the drive train, that turns the wheels. It is a highly efficient technology; up to 80% of the energy in the battery is transferred directly to power the car. Everything is computer controlled and a display shows you how the car is performing. The display lets you know about how much battery power you have left, and if you need to find a place to recharge, you can use the software built into the car or on your mobile device to guide you to the nearest charge point. When you are ready to charge your EV’s battery, instead of a gas tank there is a power cord, and instead of refueling, you recharge: just plug it in.

Benefits of electric vehicles

Electric vehicles are quickly gaining popularity and for a good reason. Besides helping our environment by keeping our air clean, they are also convenient, sleek and quiet, and for most of the short distance driving we do they are the perfect way to get from point A to point B, safely, reliably, and comfortably.

Consider the following advantages of EV’s over internal combustion engines (ICE’s)

1. Energy Efficient. Electric motors convert 75% of the chemical energy from the batteries to power the wheels. In comparison, internal combustion engines (ICEs) only convert 20% of the energy stored in gasoline.

2. Environmentally friendly. EVs emit no tailpipe pollutants, although the power plant producing the electricity may emit them. Moreover, electricity from nuclear-, hydro-, solar-, or wind-powered plants causes no air pollutants.

3. Reduce energy dependence. Electricity is a domestic energy source, and by using EV’s we are reducing our dependence on foreign oil as a nation.

4. Performance benefits. Electric motors provide quiet, smooth operation, stronger acceleration and require overall less maintenance than ICEs.

5. Tax Incentives. The US government is supporting a more widespread use of EV’s by providing special tax credits. Electric vehicles purchased in or after 2010 may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500. The credit amount will vary based on the capacity of the battery used to fuel the vehicle.

Disadvantages of electric vehicles

Some of the main drawbacks of EVs are battery related challenges outlined below. Yet, most of these issues can be resolved with a little extra planning on the part of the consumer.

1. Driving range. Most EVs can only go about 100–200 miles before recharging, where as gasoline vehicles can go over 300 miles before refueling. While this is an issue, taking a look at the statistics reveals a different perspective. As it turns out, more than 80% of Americans drive less than 40 miles round trip for their daily commute (US Department of Energy), which is just right for an EV.

2. Recharge time. Fully recharging the battery pack can take 4 to 8 hours. Even a “quick charge” to 80% capacity can take 30 min. This issue can be taken care of by recharging overnight, when you are done driving for the day, and electricity may be cheaper. However, for a quick charge during the day, charging stations are popping up everywhere in convenient locations across the US. Another option that is available on the market is an extended range EV: it starts by using battery power, but when the battery power runs low, gasoline fueled engine kicks in to power the electric motor, which in turn drives the wheels. So for shorter trips, you can rely on electricity, and still take longer road trips whenever you want. Anywhere you go, you can simply plug in or fill up.

3. Battery Cost and Weight Currently, the large battery packs are expensive and may need to be replaced one or more times. They are also heavy and take up considerable vehicle space. However, battery technology continues to advance, and researchers are working on improved battery technologies to increase driving range and decrease recharging time, weight, and cost.

Overall, with the speed of technological advancements in the car industry, it will not be long before electric vehicles will become totally compatible with internal combustion engine cars, while boasting major personal and environmental advantages. As Americans, we have had a long love affair with cars, often choosing power and speed over preserving our environment. However, as a society we have started to turn the page, as more of us make a conscious decision to opt for clean, comfortable electric vehicles.

Benefits of Geothermal Heat Pumps

We all want to save money heating and cooling our house or office, right? The answer may literally be under your feet. Much of the heating and cooling can come from the ground, below the surface with something called a Geothermal Heat Pump. Below the frost line, about 10 feet down, the earth maintains a nearly constant temperature of 54 degrees. You can tap into this geothermal energy to provide heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.

How Geothermal Heat Pump works:

Here is how it works: bury a loop of pipes, called a heat exchanger just below the surface, and fill them with water, or water and any free solution. During the winter months, the air is usually cooler than the temperature below ground. The solution circulates in a loop underground and absorbs the earth’s heat. This heat is brought to the surface and transferred to a heat pump. The geothermal heat pump warms the air and then your regular heating system warms the air some more to accommodate a comfortable temperature. Finally, ducts circulate the air to the various rooms. A huge benefit is that the geothermal system does not have to work as hard to make people inside comfortably warm, and you save a lot of money on your heating bill.

In the summer time, the geothermal heating and cooling system works in reverse: when its hot outside, the temperature below the surface is cooler than the summer heat. The fluid in the loop absorbs heat in the building and sends it underground. The ground’s lower temperature cools it and it circulates again and again. Now you are saving money on air conditioning. Buildings with large parking longs that use huge geothermal heat pumps to heat and cool the building, can have the system spread out its loop horizontally under the parking lot. However, buildings and homes that do not have all that extra space, can go straight down and use a vertical loop system instead.

Efficiency of geothermal heat pumps:

Getting right down to the bottom line, GHPs use 25%–50% less electricity than conventional heating or cooling systems. This translates into a GHP using one unit of electricity to move three units of heat from the earth. According to the EPA, geothermal energy heat pumps can reduce energy consumption—and corresponding emissions—up to 44% compared to air-source heat pumps and up to 72% compared to electric resistance heating with standard air-conditioning equipment. Geothermal heat pumps also improve humidity control by maintaining about 50% relative indoor humidity, making them highly effective in humid areas. Even though the installation price of a geothermal heating and cooling system can be several times that of an air-source system of the same heating and cooling capacity, the additional costs are returned to you in energy savings in 5–10 years.

Moreover, geothermal heat pump systems have few moving parts, which are housed inside a building, making them highly durable and reliable. The underground piping often carries warranties of 25–50 years, and the heat pumps often last 20 years or more. All the components of the system are easily accessible, which increases the convenience factor and helps ensure that the upkeep is done in a timely fashion. Also, since geothermal pumps (ground source heat pump) have no outside condensing units like air conditioners, there’s no concern about noise outside the home. A two-speed GHP system is so quiet inside a house that users do not know it is operating: there are no tell-tale blasts of cold or hot air.

Another important benefit is that geothermal heat pump systems allow for design flexibility. This means that they can be installed in both new and retrofit spaces. Because the hardware requires less space than the amount required by conventional HVAC systems, the equipment rooms can be reduced in size,freeing space for productive use. GHP systems also provide excellent “zone” space conditioning, where different parts of the building can be heated or cooled to different temperatures. Attesting to the system’s effectiveness, there are approximately 50,000 geothermal heating systems installed in the United States each year, and the number continues to grow as more consumers learn about the benefits of geothermal heat pumps.

Geothermal heat pumps can be used just about anywhere in the US, because all areas have nearly constant shallow ground temperature, although systems in different locations will have varying degrees of efficiency and cost savings. The constant temperature of the earth, just below our feet is a sustainable resource, literally in our own back yard. Geothermal energy is a clean energy source ready for us to use, to heat and cool our homes and offices while lowering our utility bills.