The question as to who is going to be the prime contractor furnishing and installing rooftop-mounted solar system seems to becoming clearer. Or is it? Will the solar contractor be roofing contractors who specialize in solar, or will it be electrical contractors who decide to aim at solar sales? Or will a new category of “solar contractor” emerge as the key player?
Recently we have seen many examples of the struggle with labor unions fighting out loud about whether roofers or electricians should be installing solar panels on rooftops. Roofing industry trade associations and a number of the larger roof-contracting firms have engaged in the work of promoting roofing contractors as the only trade that should be working on the rooftop. We have also seen a number of projects where the roofing contractor checked out after installing a new roofing system just before another contractor came into the picture to install solar panel arrays.
I believe there is a place for roofing contractors to install solar systems, and I do think our industry should continue to put itself forward as the right trade to furnish and install solar. The other trades, however, have some things we do not. I am simply pointing out that this will continue to be an uphill battle; I’m not trying to discourage any roofing contractor seeking to enter the solar market.
While there are some key players in the roofing industry working very hard to put our industry first in solar installations, we see a large number of roofing contractors who are neither engaged nor interested. And it takes more than just an interest to bid, sell, and install solar. It takes time and money, and these are times when many contractors are scrambling to keep their core business going. It’s a tough time to make a new and uncertain investment.
Other interests in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing trades have scale and are somewhat more involved with some of the solar component suppliers. There is also precedent for other trades working on top of membrane roofing systems. All manners of HVAC and other mechanical equipment lives on top of the roofs and it has been this way for a very long time. Which brings up a counterpoint: When it comes to working on a membrane roofing system, especially low-slope systems, members of other trades “don’t know what they don’t know.” Many solar arrays are integral to the overall roofing system and consequently affect its performance.
Other contractors may boast that they are more skilled when it comes to working with energy, but when it comes to the building envelope there is no trade that compares to the roofing industry in regards to conserving energy. Over the years, especially since the first energy crisis, roofing systems have been designed to improve buildings’ performance on energy consumption. Calling ourselves the energy-saving solution of the building envelope will not guarantee that the roofing industry will control solar. It will take the continuing good efforts of trade groups, large contractors, and increased interest from second- and third-tier roofing contractors in the still-emerging solar industry. It is no longer our future; it is our now.