Independence Day: Solar Power + Metal Roofing

Independence is a core value in the American character. We take pride in the belief that we can stand alone and be self-sufficient. So why shouldn’t we ask the same of our buildings? As renewable energy technology continues to develop and net-zero energy buildings become more feasible, it’s no longer impossible to envision a future where buildings of all kinds can power themselves and stand on their own. For example, we’re seeing more examples of buildings incorporating rooftop solar photovoltaic arrays to offset their own power use. It’s exciting technology and, as efficiency increases and costs come down, it certainly will become more commonplace. I like to even hope that integrated power generation eventually will become just part of what’s expected of a building. PV technology still is in its relative infancy and has a long way to go before it truly becomes cost effective enough for wide-spread use. For projects installing such technology today, two factors are of great importance: government incentives and the longevity of the system. Government incentives and tax credits can help with the up-front expense, and longevity allows the system’s costs to be spread out over a period of many years. The longer the operational life, the greater the return on investment. Because most current solar PV arrays have an operational life expectancy of more than 20 years, it’s important to think about the longevity of the roof system the PV panels or laminate sheets are installed on. When you factor this into the equation, standing seam metal roofs become not only an ideal solution–in many cases they may be the only truly viable solution. It reminds me a bit of the early days of those TV/VCR combo units. I remember reading several reports that warned consumers about the technology because oftentimes the VCR part of the appliance would break down years before the TV part would, so you’d be left with a half-functioning device. In much the same way, it doesn’t make much sense to install a long-lasting solar power-generation system on a roof that’s going to need to be replaced halfway through the life of the array. A cornerstone of the sustainability movement is a shift to a more long-term view of things. How will decisions we make today play out five, 10 and 20 years from now? With its durability and low maintenance requirements, metal roofing fits very well into this kind of philosophy. As we come to expect more from our buildings and make them more long-lasting and independent, metal has a big role to play. By Jim Schneider, LEED AP, editor, metalmag

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