Aesthetic concerns might seem shallow when compared to the urgent need to fight climate change. Yet I have no doubt the perceived "ugliness" of solar panels has been holding back adoption of renewables in many quarters.
Years back, UK-based Solarcentury launched its range of solar roofing tiles, to much excitement and considerable praise from many homeowners. Yet cost of both manufacturing and installation meant you had to pay a premium if you wanted to keep your roof slick.
That premium may now be a thing of the past.
Today, Solarcentury launched SunStation—a fully building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) system that's black in color, and sits flush with the line of your roof. In a clear effort to woo design-conscious fence sitters, the company is trumpeting the fact that fashion designer Wayne Hemmingway is one of the early adopters. Here's what he had to say about the product:
"Great-looking solar is now available for people looking to generate their own energy and reduce their energy bills, whilst maintaining the character of the home. If you’ve been put off by traditional solar panels before, your worries are alleviated. We are fussy about the detail of our home that my wife designed but Sunstation does not compromise the clean lines. Installing Sunstation also allows us to do our bit for the environment, and be thrifty.”
Perhaps even more importantly than that, says Solarcentury, the systems are cost-competitive with traditional on-roof systems because they are manufactured on the same assembly line as regular solar panels. And because they have far fewer parts than previous tile-based systems, installation is much easier too as shown in the video below.
In terms of what kind of difference this will make in adoption of solar, Solarcentury are citing statistics from their own research showing that "four fifths (81%) of homeowners want their homes to be more eco-friendly, and 96% want to save money on their energy bills. However, more than half (58%) of homeowners believe existing on-roof panels are just too unattractive, with 86% wanting new additions to their home to ‘look stylish’. Two thirds (65%) said that if they installed solar panels they’d have to be less visible and not stand out and a third (32%) even said it was important what their neighbours think about new additions to their home."
Whether these new panels result in increased uptake of solar remains to be seen, but Solarcentury are by no means the only ones working on this puzzle. Elon Musk is on record as saying he wants to make "cool looking solar panels". But what has he ever achieved, right?
SunStation is currently only available in the UK market. We'll let you know if that changes.