The solar market is a bright spot in a shaky economy. It’s expected to grow, and as it does, longtime roofing contractor DRI Companies is poised to meet the needs of builders and building owners with a powerful combination of proven roofing experience and innovative solar products, designed for both the commercial and residential sectors.
DRI Companies ( www.dricompanies.com) of Irvine, Calif., is a holding company with four operating units. They are:
- DRI Commercial, which provides roofing, maintenance and waterproofing services for commercial buildings.
- DRI Residential, which provides roofing and waterproofing services for new home construction.
- DRI Energy, a turnkey solar integrator, which installs solar systems that are integrated with the roofing system.
- Lumeta Inc., which develops and manufactures building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) modules.
“As our customers began to ask us to work with solar installers, we noticed that some of the systems we were working with didn’t integrate very well into our roofing systems,” said Tim Davey, CEO of DRI Companies. “This led Brian Flaherty (president of DRI Commercial) and me to develop solar modules that we felt improved the functionality and aesthetics of the combined solar and roof systems, while reducing the rooftop load and minimizing roof maintenance requirements.”
Stephen Torres, chief operating officer of Lumeta Inc., said the products subsidiary was created in 2007 to fill a void in the market. “It grew out of our own product needs and the lack of adequate products on the market, when we started down this road,” he said. “The key was to develop photovoltaic solutions that integrated with roof systems using roofing industry best practices. DRI, with 30 years of experience in roofing, gives us the background to provide good roofing and solar solutions.”
Commercial SystemTorres points to Lumeta’s innovative products as a key part of the company’s business strategy. The company’s commercial product, PowerPly, is a peel-and-stick panel designed for low-slope roof systems. “The genesis of the product came from looking at the way solar was being installed in 2005 and 2006, as seen from the perspective of our roofing experts,” Torres said. “We wanted to eliminate roof penetrations, and we thought the existing products were too heavy at 3.2 to 3.9 pounds per square foot. Having installed a lot of roof systems in the Sun Belt states, we know there are limitations on the dead load limits of many roof systems. We wanted to reduce the weight dramatically while still providing a high-output system and complying with best roofing practices.”
Constructed using a lightweight fiberglass-reinforced plastic substrate, PowerPly weighs just 1.8 pounds per square foot, with a front sheet of clear DuPont fluoropolymer film. It uses high performance monocrystalline cells supplied by SunTech Power Holdings of Wuxi, China, one of the largest manufacturers of solar modules in the world. “The system features quick-connect wiring, is easy to install and requires no mounting hardware,” said Torres. He also noted that there is an installation video, available on the company’s Web site (www.lumetasolar.com/installation), which demonstrates a 2.25 kW installation that was completed in 34 minutes.
The panels are adhered directly to the membrane using a peel-and-stick method familiar to roofers. “We simply adapted standard peel-and-stick roofing technology to solar applications,” Torres said. “The commercial system is compatible with most TPO, EPDM and PVC membranes. Metal, bitumen and BUR solutions are also being developed.”
“DRI Energy, DRI’s turnkey solar integrator subsidiary, optimizes placement of the solar system by taking into account the building’s orientation, shadows, HVAC equipment, water flow lines and seams. Modules are spaced six inches apart, so alignment is fast and easy,” noted Torres.
Residential SolutionsFor the company’s residential products, eliminating penetrations was essential, but the most important concern was the way the panels looked. “Aesthetics are the key driver in the residential market,” said Torres. “It doesn’t make sense to cover a beautiful tile roof system with big, unsightly solar modules.”
Torres points to the company’s Solar S Tile - which he said is the only product on the market that can actually replace existing S and low-profile roof tiles that are popular in the Western United States - and a clay tile product that is due to come out in the second quarter of 2009 as good examples of aesthetically pleasing, easy-to-install products.
“First we looked at roof functionality,” he said. “First and foremost, the product is a tile. We can make a tile that integrates solar without compromising aesthetics or sound roofing practices - that’s what traditional solar modules can’t do, and that’s what adds value.”
Since the solar laminates are integrated with the tiles, the solar laminates aren’t readily visible from the ground. “Therefore, from the street level view, when home buyers visit model homes, they see an uninterrupted profiled tile roof; the key is to focus on the leading edge of the profile,” Torres said. “The best solar module is one you can’t see, and we’ve come very close to accomplishing that with our product designs.”
The Solar S Tile takes the place of three standard tiles and is installed just like the tiles it replaces; no flashing is needed. The wiring connects below the tiles and is hidden from view.
Working With Home BuildersDRI Energy is structured to perform turnkey solar installations for new commercial construction and commercial retrofit work, as well as residential solar installations for production home builders. For example, in a tract home project, DRI Residential and DRI Energy would provide bids on the roofing and solar work, and DRI would handle all facets of the solar system. “DRI Energy does it all - sizing the system, the inverter, and providing the specifications,” Torres said.
DRI Energy can also help home builders choose the exterior model layout that most favors solar. “Orientation and elevation are key,” Torres said. “What we tell builders is, ‘The earlier we are involved in the project, the better we can optimize the solar usage for the plot plan.’”
“Educating home builders is an essential part of the sales process,” said Torres. “It’s a consultative sale and a complicated sale because we have to work with the builder to install the solar and with the builder’s sales staff to help explain the benefits of solar to prospective home buyers.”
Torres believes market forces and regulatory forces will combine to incentivize builders to increase the use of solar on their new homes over the next 24 months. According to Torres, solar installations are not only affordable but can be “cash neutral” in the first year, if a homeowner considers the interest deduction on the mortgage, the Federal Investment Tax Credit (FITC) of 30 percent, state rebates and the actual electrical savings generated from the solar system. “Unlike granite countertops, solar is an active asset,” he said. “You should be able to generate savings throughout the life of the system.”
Capitalizing on ExperienceConsidering the benefits of the four business units working together to offer a single-source contact, the people at DRI Companies are optimistic about the future. “DRI Energy is currently leveraging its relationships with DRI’s existing commercial and residential customers,” said Torres. “It’s one more service to offer to our customers. There’s great synergy among DRI Energy, DRI Commercial and DRI Residential, without duplicating marketing and other costs. We understand roofing. We understand labor. We understand safety. All we had to do was add two things: electrical know-how - we now have trained electricians on staff - and solar-design expertise. We’ve done that, so now we are able to deliver a new service, one that is poised to grow.”
“The advantage of roofing contractors doing solar installations, especially when using Lumeta products, is the fact that the systems can be installed virtually simultaneously, maximizing workforce efficiency and reducing cost to the customer,” said Davey. “Our success revolves around the use of our roofing experience to develop solar modules and our turnkey solar business model, integrating solar and roofing applications.”
“I think at the end of the day what makes us unique is our 30 years of construction execution expertise - which is what we have at DRI,” Torres concluded. “Quality, performance, expert installation - we bring that expertise to the solar side, which hasn’t really been there. Instead of building a company from the ground up, we’re applying the principles of our DRI experience, coupled with our revolutionary products, to offer a compelling proposition to our customers.”
Sidebar: A STAR IS BORNTim Davey, CEO of DRI Companies, and Brian Flaherty, president of DRI Commercial, reminisced about the origin of the company’s commercial and residential solar products.
“Our customers came to us about three years ago and asked us to look at potentially installing solar on their buildings,” said Flaherty. “Since we do a lot of roofing work, they wanted us to look at the impact on roofing. So Tim and I started to look at all different product types - standard rack-mounted and ballasted racks for standard modules - and what we saw were significant negative impacts on the roof from installing these products. It seemed that most designs did not take into account the integrity of the roof structure and roof system. This got us thinking about how we could come up with a module that had less impact on the roof. We saw that this was an opportunity not only to install solar, but also to make a better product.”
“What started out as a simple phone call between Brian Flaherty and me ended up in the development of Lumeta, the PowerPly, Solar S and Solar Flat tiles,” recalled Davey. “While reviewing pictures of residential solar installations, I made a comment to Brian about the flashings that were used in a typical installation and that DRI would never do it this way. I asked several questions: ‘Why doesn’t someone develop a product that eliminates the need for flashings?’ ‘Why don’t we just do it?’ ‘Why don’t we make a module that has a base that integrates with the S tile?’ Brian Flaherty took our Friday afternoon conversation and turned it into a prototype for the Lumeta Solar S Tile using EPS by Monday morning.”
“When we originally looked at the residential solar products, we realized that we would have to integrate flat solar tiles into a profiled tile roof using flashings which would lead to problems integrating the roofing and solar systems at the horizontal and vertical joints,” said Flaherty. “We thought this was not good design practice and wondered, ‘Why can’t we make a profiled module?’”
For the company’s commercial product, reducing the weight of the solar module was a key concern. “From the get-go - for PowerPly - Tim and I thought about taking the metal frame off of a standard module and adhering the module to the roof. It turned out that once the frame was removed, the glass front sheet was no longer an option. It needed to be a material that was thin and lightweight. This was especially important for buildings out West - with wood structures and weight limits. Tim and I thought that a thinner material would be better. This led us eventually to the FEP film.”