GAF Energy, part of the world’s largest roofer: The time is now for building integrated PV and solar roofs


Martin DeBono, president of GAF Energy, part of the world’s largest roofing company, thinks that the time is now for building integrated PV (BIPV). He told pv magazine:

“It really is a question of timing. For sure a lot of people have tried this and failed. There are numerous examples of technologies where the timing wasn’t right. Apple Newton is a famous example. Palm Pilot is a famous example. The idea was right, but there wasn’t the convergence of factors that led to the ultimate technology breakthrough. What you’re seeing today with GAF, with companies like Telsa — these are heavily capitalized, serious efforts to finally push BIPV to where it needs to be.”

“You have the phenomenal reduction in the cost of photovoltaic cells; you have the know-how of ten years of various AHJs [Authorities Having Jurisdiction] that are much more comfortable dealing with solar; you have the increasing miniaturization of power electronics.”

“Over the last 20 years, the way solar panels have been attached to a roof hasn’t changed. When you install a traditional rack-mounted system, which has between 68 and 100 half-inch penetrations, you’re effectively cutting a six by six hole in the roof — with lag bolts drilled through the water barrier in the hope you’ll find a rafter.”

“I believe this will change over time. By integrating solar with the roofing, you’re going to ensure the integrity of the home.”


GAF Energy’s “direct-to-deck” solar modules are integrated into the roof. The company uses a 60-cell, 360-watt laminate from Solaria with a custom frame that allows it to be waterproof with a lower profile and faster installation. Here are installation instructions for GAF’s BIPV roof.

More from GAF Energy on its integrated solar roof

According to DeBono, the roof will pay for itself within the warranted life of the product. He said, “You have the backing of GAF — a 100-year old company and the world’s largest roofer.”

He added, “I can assure you — without naming names — the largest solar companies in the U.S. are getting into roofing. I think that Tesla has it absolutely right. They’re playing the long game, as are we. The industry will evolve from rack-mounted to BIPV.”

“Roofers want to roof. We have rectangular kits — roofers can effectively send us a picture of the home and we’ll be able to send them the exact number of rectangular tiles they can put on it, and those are prepackaged at our warehouse for quick turnaround time. The homeowner and the roofing partner get the benefit and the improved economics of only having one crew on the roof.”

As for removing the solar array, DeBono added, “If someone said, ‘You know what? I’m for global warming. It can’t get hot enough soon enough. Get these panels off my roof,’ you can take them off and just add asphalt shingles to where the solar was.”

 “Acquisition cost for a roofer is about 1/100th of what solar companies pay”

“Five million Americans get a new roof each year. Compare that to the 200,000 or 300,000 people that go solar each year. You’re looking at a 20x increase in the number of homes. At the same time, the acquisition cost for roofers is about 1/100th of what solar companies pay. If you look at some of the filings from public companies, you’ll see acquisition costs of around $5,000. Roofing acquisition costs are about $50, maybe $100. Anywhere from 1% to 5% acquisition costs compared to a solar company.”

The (unprofitable?) California solar mandate

“I think [the California Solar Mandate] is a very good thing for the environment. However, I’m not certain as to how profitable that business would be — I don’t know if home builders would be willing to pay the same premium for a product as a homeowner would. The margins in any market where government mandates a product are typically a lot lower than what you find in a market where people have to compete on value.”

“The benefits of batteries are overstated”

“I think that there are better solutions on the horizon than lithium ion, and I don’t think that the industry should push lithium ion batteries. I think that they’re not the safest to put in homes. I think that things like zinc would be more promising, and we need to move away from lithium. Maybe lithium phosphate would be a better choice, but I’m just concerned about lithium”

“There are some cases where battery storage makes economic sense, but in most cases, I think that there is very little economic argument for batteries today. I think that today the benefits of batteries are overstated and the costs are understated.”


There are still a number of companies fighting the BIPV fight, although it would be difficult to declare any runaway commercial successes. Here’s an incomplete list of BIPV firms.

Here are some of the casualties of the BIPV market.

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