Thanks to a system created by SRS Energy and offered exclusively as an upgrade option to customers of US Tile (the largest manufacturer of clay tile in the United States), those wishing to benefit from rooftop solar energy will no longer have to worry about any panels being stuck on the side of the roof and spoiling the aesthetics. The Solé Power Tile system is the first building-integrated photovoltaic roofing product designed to blend in with curved roof tiles commonly found in the Pacific West and Southwest of the United States.

Each tile is 37.4in wide and 18in long, there's generally a 3in overlap leaving 15in of tile exposed to sunlight. A 30 tile per 100 sq ft installation will weigh 240lbs and generate 860 Kw/h per annum (assuming 5.8 peak sun hours). According to SRS Energy: "triple-junction amorphous silicon thin-film technology incorporated within the Solé Power Tile" is manufactured by United Solar Ovonic and "allows the system to produce an estimated 8-20% more energy than incumbent crystalline silicon panels of the same rated power."

Any power generated by the system which is not used by the building (or stored in batteries if that option is chosen) is fed into the grid. Utility companies then give a credit for the amount of energy generated meaning financial benefits can be enjoyed from day one. Each system is monitored to provide feedback so that checks can be made against any credits made.

Monitored to ensure efficiency

Although SRS Energy claims that those who choose to install the Solé Power Tile system should enjoy many years of trouble-free rooftop energy creation before a tile needs to be replaced, both SRS Energy and US Tile monitor the system to ensure that it's working efficiently. It's set up so that if one tile should fail, a total system failure doesn't occur and the rest of the tiles continue to generate charge as if nothing had happened.

If a tile does fail or it reaches the end of its expected operational life, the thermoplastic polymers used in its construction can be safely recycled. You might wonder why the solar tiles do not color match the clay tiles. Unfortunately blue is currently the only color available due to the limits of the solar technology used in the tile. Other color options may become available in the future as advances in the field are made.

Availability and more info

It is currently only available to a limited number of US Tile customers in the West Coast area. The first residential installation has just been completed at Bermuda Dunes in California. A (US) nationwide rollout is being planned for the Spring of 2010 and international marketing may follow after that.

Pricing an installation depends on so many variants that anyone interested in learning how they might benefit from one of these systems should contact SRS Energy for detailed information, although it may be worth noting that both Federal and State incentives could be available to help offset installation costs.

If you already have a US Tile roof and don't relish the thought of having to pay for a new one don't worry, a retrofit can be arranged. US Tile's headquarters in California is equipped with a demo installation should you wish to see a system in action.

And if you live near Audubon, Philadelphia then you could also pop over to Zwahlen's Ice Cream and Chocolate Company parlor on Shannondell Boulevard as the building has been sporting some Solé tiles on its roof since June 2009 (see gallery).

Details and installation photographs can be viewed on both SRS's website and US Tile's website.

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