Traditional blue and black photovoltaic solar panels offer clean power options in a range of environments, but their color doesn't always blend into the surroundings. For many residents and business owners whose primary concerns are reducing their energy bills and decreasing their carbon emissions, aesthetics are a nominal trade-off. But for some prospective solar customers—especially those belonging to an HOA that has strict covenants about objects like solar panels—aesthetics can be the deciding factor. When Mike Mrozek experienced resistance from his southern California HOA that didn’t like the look of his proposed black solar panels, he became dedicated to finding a solution.
In 2010, Mrozek founded Gold Coast Solar and worked with Paul Wise to develop colored solar panels that would appeal to a wider range of consumers, and satisfy the HOAs’ inconspicuous demands. The concept was taken to the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory for testing “to make sure the product would work,” said Wise, COO of the Ventura, California-based company that’s now called Colored Solar. As of early 2013, the company was the only U.S. manufacturer of colored PV panels. These panels, constructed out of the same polycrystalline silicon wafers as other high-end PV panels, were indeed functional—yet customers wondered how effective they would be.
Hebe Solar, a China-based solar manufacturer that also creates solar panels, claims that the colored cells “result in a degradation of performance over normal cells of about 20 percent.” Produced in different shades and designs to blend into various architecture and landscape, Colored Solar’s panels range from 215 to 225 watts and perform around 15 percent. “That’s comparable to the majority of the solar modules that are being sold on the market today,” Wise said in a podcast with Solar Power World.
But solar cell technology is constantly evolving. In fact, SunPower’s new top-of-the-line X-Series solar panels perform at a record-breaking 21.5 percent efficiency. Although they are only available in—you guessed it—blue and black. On its website, Hebe Solar also reveals that consumers should expect to pay two to three times more for adding color to normal PV cells, and the custom job requires “extensive lead times” to complete.
That may be why Colored Solar’s customers are predominantly solar integrators who deal with high-end customers concerned with their home’s aesthetics. For individuals who can expect to pay more for their earth-toned, aesthetically-pleasing panels, Colored Solar has added value with thicker glass and additional testing for “hard, harsh environments,” Wise said.
Another goal for Colored Solar is to provide the option of adding panels to historic buildings. For example, the company’s tile red colored panels blend well with Spanish tile roofs. These particular PV panels have been backed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation Society and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar America Communities Program. Increasing solar panel adoption in to the historic preservation sector, which has guidelines for aesthetics, can help bring solar energy into mainstream society.
“Color solar modules reduce the barrier option by bringing color and stylized solar products that blend the aesthetic architectural features of the buildings and historical places,” Wise said.