The solar roof industry is such a new – yet burgeoning – industry that it’s not really included in local, state, or federal policy. Updating incentives, policies, and regulations could help expand the adoption of solar roofs. With the Biden administration’s strong focus on carbon reduction, the solar investment tax credit (ITC) seems to be safe through 2024. But as it’s written today, integrated solar roofing does not fully qualify.
The ITC was meant to encourage greater adoption of solar and reduce the cost and access to consumers. Electrek spoke with Keally DeWitt, vice president, marketing & public policy at GAF Energy, about why updating the ITC to include new technologies will spur innovation and speed the US transition to 100% clean energy.
Electrek: What incentives at the local, state, and national levels are currently in place for integrated solar roofs, and what is included in the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill for integrated solar roofs?
Keally DeWitt: Residential solar incentives begin and end with the ITC. When the ITC was first enacted in 2006, it primarily aimed to spur solar energy growth in the US and drive economic gains, especially the creation of new, clean energy manufacturing and construction jobs. The ITC has unequivocally delivered on its goals. Since its passage, the solar industry has grown 10,000% and added hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs to the US economy. In addition, the ITC has enabled millions of home and business owners to cost-effectively install solar roofs, save money on their utility bills, and reduce carbon emissions.
The ITC succeeded because it effectively promoted the widespread deployment of new technology. In large part because of that success, innovations in the solar sector are leading to an entirely new generation of products. That means that in order to keep pace with developments like the rapid advancement of integrated solar roofing, the ITC needs to be modernized to target cutting-edge technologies. It must reflect the reality of how solar is installed as well as how it will be installed in the future. The policy currently doesn’t encompass critical installation considerations of integrated solar roofing, such as the inseparability of the roof and solar when installed contemporaneously with a roof or when solar is actually, wholly part of the roof, as is the case with integrated solar roofs.
Clarity within the ITC that the roof can be considered part of the energy property when installed with solar is critical as we take the next step forward in the evolution of residential solar from rooftop solar to integrated solar roofs.
Electrek: What impact could updating the ITC have for the US clean energy economy?
Keally DeWitt: Providing clarity around the ITC at the federal policy level is critical. We believe that it could have the same impact on solar roofs that the ITC has had on rooftop solar. Solar roofing offers the potential for the US to scale its clean energy manufacturing operations on US shores. At GAF Energy, we recently announced the buildout of a state-of-the-art solar roof R&D and manufacturing facility in San Jose, California, while Tesla produces its solar roof product in Buffalo, New York.
The Biden administration and Congress have already voiced a commitment to building a resilient economy that can both confront climate change and create thousands of high-quality manufacturing jobs. In order to maximize the positive climate and economic impacts of the next generation of solar energy technology, updates to the ITC are critical and must be a legislative priority.
Electrek: How are integrated solar roofs different from typical rooftop solar, and why would these be treated differently when it comes to policy and incentives?
Keally DeWitt: Put simply, typical rooftop solar is mounted on top of the roof using racks; integrated solar roofs are actually part of the roof. At GAF Energy, our current solar roofing product attaches directly to the roof deck for a lower-profile look and better waterproofing. Our goal with our next-generation product – targeted for release later this year – is to create solar-energy generating materials that are even more seamlessly integrated with roofing materials.
When it comes to policy and incentives for rack-mounted versus integrated solar, the policy tends to favor the status quo instead of laying the groundwork for the direction the industry is heading. As is often the case, innovation is moving ahead of policy, and if we want to encourage further innovation, we need policy to catch up. The Biden administration recently held a Leaders Summit on Climate at the White House on Earth Day, where he announced that the US aims to reduce its emissions by 50% to 52% by 2050.
This is an ambitious and important goal, and we need public policy to be put in place that closes the critical gap between pledges and tangible progress. I’m talking about updating the ITC because it’s currently being deliberated in Congress as part of clean energy and infrastructure proposals, but there are dozens of state and local policies that need to be updated to better acknowledge the growing interdependence of roofing and solar, and the potential of integrated solar roofs to change the game for distributed, residentially sited solar deployment. For example, in California, state licensing requirements regarding which trades can and cannot be solar providers don’t allow for roofers to act as both solar sales people and installers.
I know that the public is ready for solar roofs and the industry is ready to take off. Solar roofs are simply the better residential solar solution: They deliver the same financial and carbon-free energy benefits, but are easier to install, more aesthetically pleasing, and more durable and reliable when it comes to waterproofing. Integrated solar roofs are a win-win for homeowners, addressing a need for a new roof, while also satisfying a desire to have a positive impact on the environment by generating clean energy.
The opportunity is enormous: More than 5 million roofs are replaced every year in the US. If we can convert just a fraction of those roof replacements to solar roof installations, the country could nearly double its rooftop solar capacity in just two or three years. If Congress recognizes this important advancement in innovation, it could spark a new jobs boom and truly bring residential solar to the mass market.
Keally DeWitt, vice president, marketing & public policy at GAF Energy, comes to solar with the conviction that carbon-neutral is the new black. She started in renewables as the head of marketing for the largest solar company in the Northeast before moving into marketing and public policy leadership roles at Sunrun and SunPower. As the national organizing director of The Alliance for Solar Choice, Fortune described the netroots work she pioneered as “radically changing” political advocacy through digital technology. Prior to joining GAF Energy, she served as head of marketing at Mosaic. She has a BA from Brown University.
Photo: GAF Energy/Anbe Roofing – 31+ kW system in Portola Valley, California
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