That Big Ugly Box on Your Roof

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and may be an acquired taste, especially when it comes to solar modules.  I was at a solar energy conference last week and one of the other lunch guests at my table referred to the solar panels that you may put on your roof as those “big ugly boxes on your roof.” And this was a conference on solar energy, not a Texas rodeo.  It reinforced the notion that there are two major impediments for homeowners to the adoption of home solar panels: finances and beauty.

It is hard to attract much attention from most homeowners whose electricity bills may be $100 per month when the cost of a residential solar energy system may be north of $30,000. Granted, the economic incentives will reduce this cost considerably, but the homeowner still needs to figure out how to  pay the upfront costs. In some states, solar leasing or the property assessed clean energy programs can help, but for most, as alluring as solar energy may be, the upfront cost looms large.

The other impediment is the look of the solar panels for your home. I have mentioned this factor before on this blog, and I return to this theme in this entry. I cannot emphasize enough that people do care about how solar panels look on their roofs. Poor aesthetics is a frequently mentioned reason for homeowners not to adopt solar energy and most studies show that potential solar buyers are interested in a flush mounted solar system that blends into the roof. We have all seen solar energy systems that are simply thrown up on the roofs, and these systems do a severe disservice to others who are interested in solar energy.  It makes people think of that “big ugly box on your roof.” But it doesn’t have to be so, and many new residential solar systems don’t distract from the beauty of the home and indeed add to the architectural merit of the home.

Think back to your own experiences with new architectural objects. Does anyone remember when they built the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, now the most recognizable building in that glorious city?  Does anyone remember the outcry about how the building would ruin the skyline when it was being built? There probably was a similar outcry when they built a number of landmarks throughout the world.

You may have seen the report on CNN about the debate over the Massachusetts wind farm off of Cape Cod.  No wind turbines have been built offshore in the US—and I doubt that it has anything to do with anything other than aesthetics. I must confess that that these wind turbines are an acquired taste—perhaps just like the original wind mills in Holland. They are not offshore drilling platforms that dot the coast off of California, where I grew up. Are they beautiful or are they an eyesore? Maybe it depends on your commitment to renewable energy, or maybe not, but they will undoubtedly get built in this country sooner or later, just like they have in numerous European countries.

Dow Representatives Show Off Thin Film CIGS Solar Panel

Dow Representatives Show Off Thin Film CIGS Solar Panel on National Mall

I think that solar has one leg up even on these offshore wind turbines. A good installer can create a good design using existing solar modules on the market today. Aesthetics of your solar array should not be an afterthought. And there are new products that are even less abrupt to the eye that are coming onto the market soon. Dow Chemical Company is introducing its solar shingles that employ thin film solar modules later this year. I just saw one of these solar shings on display this past weekend at the Earth Day celebration on the National Mall, and they do indeed look like, well, your roof. Other innovations are on the way.  And you no longer will have to think about those big ugly boxes on your roof.

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One Response to “That Big Ugly Box on Your Roof”

  1. Kristine says:

    Renewable energy technology is advancing in such a rapid pace. You never know, maybe one day you wont be looking at “an ugly box ” on the roof :)