The new solar shingles from GAF Energy, a spin-off of Standard Industries, the world’s largest roofing company, can be nailed directly to the roof like ordinary shingles. Since the roofing industry is 20 times larger than the solar industry, the company hopes the shingles—the winner of the energy category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards—can speed up the switch to renewables through its vast network of roofers. “We should be able to dramatically increase the adoption of solar by leveraging roofing economics and roofing scale,” says Martin DeBono, president of GAF Energy.
The team pitched the idea to GAF executives, even though “we had no idea if they would work or if they would be manufacturable,” DeBono says.
The new shingles had to be waterproof, fire-safe, and strong enough to walk on, yet transparent to let in light, which meant experimenting with hundreds of materials.
Designers tried to disguise the wire channels in an early prototype, but then embraced the tech aesthetic. “We decided to own it,” DeBono says.
The team tweaked the design so it could be manufactured cost effectively, and started “torture testing” to ensure the panels could survive on a roof for 25 years.
Pilot installations proved the shingles performed as expected—and because solar cells are slightly larger than standard shingles, they also turned out to be faster to install.
The new solar shingles got certified by Underwriters Laboratories, so they can be installed on homes as a roofing and solar energy product.