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Previously skeptical consumers 'are now thinking about' installing solar panels': GAF Energy president

·5 min read

Senator Jon Ossoff, (D-GA), and Reps. Mikie Sherill, (D-NJ), and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) recently announced legislation that would expand solar tax credits to include integrated solar roofs for homeowners in another push towards renewable energy as the earth’s climate hurtles toward dangerous tipping points.

With 5 million roofs replaced each year in the United States, “the opportunity to upsell someone from a regular roof to a solar roof represents not only a good business opportunity, but a tremendous opportunity to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Martin DeBono, president of GAF Energy, told Yahoo Finance (video above).

DeBono added that “with all the attention that solar energy and renewable fuels are getting as a result of the discussions for this bill, it's just raising awareness. And so, people who were not thinking about going solar in the past are now thinking about it.”

A man sits on top of a tarp covering a badly damaged roof after Hurricane Ida made landfall.
Workers place a tarp on a roof that was damaged when a tree fell on it during Hurricane Ida on August 31, 2021, in Houma, Louisiana. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The solar investment tax credit (ITC), first enacted in 2006, enables those who install solar PV systems between 2020 to 2022 to claim a 26% federal tax credit. (That tax credit jumps down to 22% for systems completed in 2023.)

But as it stands now, the ITC covers solar panels mounted on rooftops — but not fully integrated solar roofs, which are made of solar shingles embedded into the roof structure. The recently proposed RAISE the Roof Act aims to fix that.

DeBono said that although installation requires a significant upfront cost, the panels pay for themselves over time by reducing energy costs. Federal, state, and local subsidies also help to make solar more affordable, though solar panels still are out of reach for many low- and middle-income households who generally spend more on energy and utilities. And while solar panels help curb the use of fossil fuels over the course of their lifetime, they also can raise housing costs.

“So it depends upon the state, but a solar roof is an investment,” DeBono said. “But the good news is, it's an investment that pays for itself."

In climates like in Arizona and California, "that investment can pay for itself anywhere from three to year years,” DeBono explained. “In some of the more northern climates, where you don't get as much sun, the payback might be 7 to 12 years.”

A look at solar power installation across the U.S. (Source: Yahoo Finance)
A look at solar power installation across the U.S. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

'The energy is there' for solar panels

The major obstacle for solar roof companies like GAF Energy and competitors like Tesla (TSLA), according to DeBono, is not the technology but turning homeowners into solar converts.

The cost to wire a home’s solar roof into its electrical system is “pretty straightforward,” he said. “The bigger cost is getting people to actually agree to do so. So one of the actual biggest costs in solar is in sales and marketing.”

DeBono added that every hour of the day, "the amount of energy that hits the Earth from the sun is equal to the output of all the world's power plants over a year. So the energy is there. The ability for it to withstand storms is there. We just need to get products out there that people actually want to put on their home and make economic sense. The problem that has not been solved is, how do you make a solar roof look good and be able to go on fast enough so the vast majority of the United States wants to put it on their roof?”

A worker places a solar panel on a roof surrounded by stacks of roof tiles.
Workers install solar panels on the roofs of homes under construction south of Corona, California, Thursday morning May 3, 2018. (Photo by Will Lester/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin via Getty Images)

GAF Energy will soon begin developing and manufacturing new solar roof products in the United States. The company announced it would be establishing a new facility in San Jose, California, and shifting its manufacturing from South Korea.

“It won't be entirely domestic-based to start. There's certain components that you only find in Asia,” DeBono said. “But I believe over the next 5 to 10 years, I think it's very easy to see 100% domestic supply chain.”

GAF Energy's move bucks the trend in which Asia — and especially China — dominates solar manufacturing. 80% of the solar supply chain is controlled by Chinese companies, according to Wall Street Journal reporting, and over half of the supply of polysilicon, which is used in solar panel components, comes from China's Xinjiang region. 

HAI'AN, CHINA - APRIL 11: An employee works at a solar panel manufacturing workshop on April 11, 2021 in Hai'an, Jiangsu Province of China. (Photo by Zhai Huiyong/VCG via Getty Images)
HAI'AN, CHINA - APRIL 11: An employee works at a solar panel manufacturing workshop on April 11, 2021 in Hai'an, Jiangsu Province of China. (Photo by Zhai Huiyong/VCG via Getty Images)

China's investment in solar manufacturing has driven down its costs, although reports of forced labor of the Uyghur population in China have cast a shadow over the entire industry. These reports led the Biden administration to ban the import of silicon substances from a Chinese firm in June.

Additionally, recent supply chain disruptions may nudge the industry toward domestic manufacturing.

“I feel very confident that in the future, you're going to see more and more, not only headline products, but the constituent components needed to build those products move into the United States,” DeBono said.

Grace is an assistant editor for Yahoo Finance and a UX writer for Yahoo products.

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