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Lawrence Gasman, one of the lead analysts on the organization’s latest report, said that the only way solar will succeed will be in these new fields of transparent and building-integrated photovoltaics. But he added that he doesn’t believe even those roads will be smooth.
“Solar is a really, really lousy deal economically,” Gasman said, “especially as the subsidies fall away.”
The saving grace, he said, will be the ability to integrate the expensive technology into already expensive building materials, so the cost becomes a smaller fraction of the overall expense.
“Architectural glass, for example,” Gasman said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with architectural glass, but it ain’t cheap. Adding solar to that is just a drop in the bucket.”
Integrating solar into glass in general presents opportunities to be creative with solar installations and put them in places where they wouldn’t otherwise be found and to allow them to blend in with their settings.
“The other part of the story is aesthetics,” Gasman said. “Some people, not me because I’m a serious nerd, are very concerned with aesthetics.”
Gasman owns a 100-year-old farm house with his wife and they are both “keen on the idea of solar,” he said. But when his wife considers that she’ll have to plant panels on her roof that will stick out and ruin the authentic feel of the farmhouse, she becomes less “keen.”
Incorporating solar into roof shingles and plastic siding are also possibilities for the technology, Gasman said. But because those materials are significantly cheaper than items like architectural glass, the added cost is much greater.
Other challenges transparent and building-integrated solar face come from the same sources that benefit them.
Gasman said he spoke with one man who installed a beautiful solar wall in an office building only to have someone plant a giant tree right in front of it.
“That is the risk of camouflaging your solar panels,” Gasman said.