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Solar roofing tiles comes to tract housing

To appeal to builders, DRI Energy puts solar cells onto familiar roof tiles and designs a flat panel that glues to commercial buildings.

Call it building-integrated solar power for cookie-cutter housing.

DRI Energy has developed roofing tiles with solar cells built in them. For commercial customers, it has solar panels that literally glue onto flat roofs. The products, branded under the Lumeta name, will be available in the second quarter.

The Lumeta roofing tiles have solar cells embedded to fit in with the roof line. DRI Energy

The green tech company sells to builders of commercial constructions, like retail outlets and office buildings, and developers of tract housing, large developments of new homes.

The problem with installing solar electricity in these types of developments is that builders don't want to work solar panels and the racking systems, said Stephen Torres, chief operating officer at DRI Energy. "They don't do rack installs unless they have to," he said.

In the southwest United States, where DRI Energy operates, many roofs aren't strong enough to support a large installation of solar panels, he added. And residential customers in many cases would prefer not having visible panels.

At the same time, there is growing interest in solar power because it's cleaner and it's a hedge against rising electricity prices. So, DRI Energy has designed roofing tiles that have the solar cells within them.

The Lumeta Power-Ply is designed to stick onto flat roofs, eliminating the need for racking. DRI Energy

They start with standard terra-cotta colored s-tiles or flat concrete tiles and add a cavity to hold the wiring and solar cells which convert light to electricity. The added photovoltaic cells make their roofing tiles slightly thicker than tiles but are far less noticeable than adding flat panels, Torres said.

For business customers, it has designed solar panels that stick onto a flat roof with an adhesive. That "peel and stick" approach eliminates the need for brackets, said Torres.

Placing panels flat on the roof does have drawbacks. The panels will not generate as much electricity as others that are tilted to optimize the sun angle. Also, they will get hotter than rack-mounted systems which benefit from an air flow below them. That extra heat will lower their overall efficiency.

The company hopes to make up that loss with lower installation costs because there is less labor involved and they eliminate the cost of the racking, Torres said.

DRI Energy has a partnership with Chinese solar manufacturer Suntech Power to supply the cells and manufacturer the panels and solar tiles.