Last February, judges at the International Roofing Expo, in Las Vegas, voted the solar roof kit introduced by Luma Resources the best new product at the show.

Luma Resources is a sister company of Allen Brothers Roofing, in Rochester Hills, Mich. The product was invented by Gary Allen, one of two brothers who co-own Allen Brothers Roofing. The kit uses photovoltaic technology, and consists of 60 solar shingles and a converter along with the wiring and flashing for full installation. REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR talked with co-owner Robert Allen about the product.

Replacement Contractor: How much demand do you think there is a for a photovoltaic solar roof system like the one you displayed at the Roofing Expo?

Robert Allen: I don't think it's a matter of how much demand there is but of how fast that demand can be met. For instance, in Orlando, the local government just voted not to build a coal-fired power plant. That means Orlando-area homeowners will be using renewable energy, like solar, rather than fossil fuels. Long term, there'll be more and more demand as states and municipalities, then homeowners, turn to renewables.

RC: Is your product targeted mainly to roofers or to new-home builders?

RA: Both. We expect demand to be about half and half. It's a perfect retrofit product, and I expect more interest from builders as home building begins to increase again. We've seen interest from home builders as well as from roofing contractors.

RC: So your plan is for roofing contractors to buy and install your product?

RA: It will be a factory-direct shipment, in two boxes. Typically, we want to set up a relationship with a roofer. The roofer or roofing company would have to qualify. I have to know that this guy is going to take the product and install it the right way; so there will be a training process. I figure it will take someone two or three installations to really learn how to do it.

RC: You're aware there was a big push for solar power in the '70s that failed to catch on. Why will this solar product be successful now?

RA: In the '70s, solar roof panels were regarded as ugly and inefficient; it wasn't good enough. Now, with all the improvements, it's quickly becoming a product that can hold its own.

RC: In the states where solar panels are gaining acceptance, aren't subsidies such as rebates and tax credits a big incentive to buy?

RA: They are, but subsidies don't last forever. Why would the government do that? It has to be driven by demand. When there's demand, supply will follow. That's what we'll see happen as electricity rates continue to go up and consumers realize that solar power does pay for itself in a short period of time - and they have a secure source of energy for the home.

RC: Will your system supply all the power that a home needs?

RA: What you are trying to do is to provide the homeowner with enough power to get as close to zero consumption as possible. The question is how many years does it take to repay the investment in buying and installing the system. It's like any other investment. In this case, you're investing in a system that allows you to save the money you'd otherwise be spending on electricity off the grid.

RC: Various manufacturers in the roofing industry are working on photovoltaic shingles. What's different about your solar roofing kit?

RA: We are roofers. We know how roofs function and we built the product for the people in our world. This is not coming out of a laboratory. Somebody had to step up from within the industry and come up with a way to get it on the roof and make sure it doesn't leak. That's where the others couldn't figure it out.

RC: How much does your product cost and how long does it take to install?

RA: Let's assume a house of, say, 2,400 square feet. Our 2 kilowatt system could be installed by a two-man crew in a day, with another half-day for the electrician. We timed it. The labor cost would be $1,500 and the total installed cost of the job, to the homeowner, would be $13,000.

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