October 14, 2022 at 11:20 a.m.

Editor’s note: The following is the transcript of a live interview with Rob Hughs of JM, Skyler Shipley of Prolog, and George Blinick of Powerflex. You can read the interview below, watch the webinar, or listen to the podcast. 

Heidi Ellsworth:

Hello everyone. My name is Heidi Ellsworth and I’m with Roofers Coffee Shop and this is Coffee Conversations. We are so excited today. This is going to be an amazing conversation all about solar and what’s happening in the industry. We have a panel of distinguished experts who are really going to help and help all of us understand where this market is going, especially on commercial roofs across the US and everywhere else. So before we get started, I want to thank JM who is our sponsor, Johns Manville. Thank you for being the thought leader you are, for bringing this topic to us, and to really talking about how roofs are making a huge difference in saving the world. I’m just going to say that. Roofs saving the world and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. So Johns Manville, thank you so much for sponsoring this and for being a part of everything that really is making the industry better.

As always, I want to start too with some housekeeping. This is being recorded and it will be on demand within the next 24 hours. We love questions. We love chatting. So please, get into the chat, tell us your thoughts, ask questions, and we will be answering those as we go. So we want to hear all what you’re thinking around solar and commercial roofing. We also would love to know just who you are. So if you want to in the chat, let us know what you do. Are you a building owner? Are you a commercial roofing contractor, residential contractor, manufacturer? Just let us know what you do and where you’re located. It’s kind of fun. Everybody can see in the chat what’s happening. As always, Megan Ellsworth, our producer, is in the background and she’ll be chatting with you, making sure we get all the questions up there, or if you have any technical issues, be sure to reach out to her through the chat too.

Okay. Here we go. I would love to introduce our first panelists, Rob Hughes, who is with Johns Manville and has been working on the solar initiatives, really bringing information to building owners through BURSI. So Rob, welcome to the show and please introduce yourself.

Rob Hughes:

Thanks Heidi. I’m glad to be here. I’ve been with JM about four years now and in addition to helping work the solar program here at JM, I work with our national accounts managing the guaranteed portfolio and I provide technical advice and analysis for the owner services team working directly with builder owners here at JM.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Awesome. Thank you so much for being here this morning. This is going to be such a great discussion. Next I would like to introduce Skyler Shipley who is with Prologis. He’s the manager of Energy Projects. Prologis, everyone knows that name Skyler. We’re so excited to have you here. So please introduce yourself and welcome to the show.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. Thanks. Yeah. Excited to be here. So if you don’t know what Prologis, our CEO likes to say that we’re the biggest company no one’s ever heard of, but if you do commercial roofs, you probably have been on one of our roofs before. We’ve got over a billion square feet across the world and looking to put solar on as much of it as possible. So yeah. Glad to be here. Thank you.

Heidi Ellsworth:

That’s great. Really excited about this conversation. And last, but certainly not least, we have George Blinick with PowerFlex. George, welcome. Please introduce yourself.

George Blinick:

Thank you Heidi. Thanks for having us. Good morning everyone. I hope you’re enjoying your coffees so far. I’m George. I work with PowerFlex. I’m the technical program manager here. So what I do is I basically deal with Skyler and the entire Prologis team, make sure that we build their solar projects and really their renewable energy projects of solar, battery, EV charging, energy management systems to their specifications across the national portfolio. So really excited to be chatting about solar and roofs specifically today. And yeah. Thank you again for having us Heidi.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Thank you for being here. This is great. It sounds like, George, we may have a little bit of an echo there. So Megan might be trying to see if we can fix that. I’m not sure if it’s just me or not. As we go along. So we want to get started and we really want to talk about the state of the industry. Where we’re at right now and I think that is key to really understanding where we’re going. So I want to start with you Skyler. I’m really talking about the current state of the industry around solar. What are some of the things that are driving solar for Prologis?

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. For us, it’s really what our customers are asking for. We’re a very customer centric organization and we listen to the pain points of our customers. They’re not your typical landlord. We actually offer a lot of other services that help our customers move in and stuff like electrifying their fleets and adding clean, renewable energy and a lot of customers are facing rising electrical bills, which is a fixed cost you can’t really do much about usually. So we’re able to provide them clean, renewable energy that helps them reduce their carbon footprint and reduce their overhead at the same time.

Heidi Ellsworth:

And it seems like we’re also hearing a lot about that the utility prices are really starting to shift and is really a big part of, for a long time, having been in the industry almost 30 years next year, I’ve seen solar kind of come and go, but it really seems like the right things have come in place that’s really going to make it happen on such a larger scale. Talk a little bit about, Skyler I’m going to go back to you for a second, on utility price increases.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. As renewable energy becomes more prevalent and starts to enter the grid and essentially is taking revenue away from the utilities. And so they have to make up for that. And so every kilowatt hour goes up, there’re added fees maybe showing up on your bills, things like that. But we really need to diversify our sources of power and clean up our power sources. So it’s a necessary thing and we’re all working together with utilities actually. I’ve been in solar for 10 years, 11 years now and I’ve found that the attitude in utilities has kind of shifted over time and they recognize the need and they’re just trying to figure out how to support renewable energy with their grid, which is a critical component.

Everything solar’s grid following. Yeah. It’s a big challenge, but it’s one that I think that we’re actually uniquely positioned to attack right now with the recent IRA bill that passed. There’s a lot of new incentives and things like that to help spread solar into parts of the country that traditionally haven’t been very friendly towards solar.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Right.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. We’re really excited. We’re at I believe an inflection point. As much as you’ve seen solar go on roofs, we’re just getting started.

Heidi Ellsworth:

We’re just getting started. We’re seeing the same thing and George, you have to be seeing that so much with what you’re doing and all the new legislation that’s coming out with the IRA, the infrastructure. What are you seeing that’s really driving your business right now?

George Blinick:

Yeah. So first of all is my audio okay right now?

Skyler Shipley:

No.

Heidi Ellsworth:

It’s a little echoey. It wasn’t before.

George Blinick:

Oh my goodness. All right. Well-

Heidi Ellsworth:

That’s okay.

George Blinick:

We’ll try AirPods or without the AirPods. Is that any better?

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. That’s better. Thank you. Yeah.

George Blinick:

Okay. Give me one second. Apologies.

Heidi Ellsworth:

That’s okay. I’ll go to Rob while you’re working on that. That’s perfect. So Rob, you’re working with building owners every day. What are some of the things that you’re seeing that are driving the building owners, like Prologis, but all of your building owners to really look at solar as a solution?

Rob Hughes:

Well I think some of the things that Skyler touched on certainly. I think that other markets are a little more favorable than others, but that’s a lot of acreage on top of buildings to look at the possibility of putting solar up there. So people want to take advantage of that space and use it productively.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. We’ve also been seeing some grid risk, especially when you’re talking about buildings that are sensitive like hospitals, schools. Every building is sensitive. Let’s be honest, but that grid risk of the grid going down has really I think also made people start thinking about how they’re going to approach that. Skyler, you’re nodding. What have you seen there?

Skyler Shipley:

Resiliency is critical. I live in California. We now have a whole season of the year called the fire season where we expect fires to happen. And when that happens, PGE and SoCAL Edison are forced to take some of their parts of the grid down for safety. So resiliency is a huge component. Like I said, solar’s kind of grid dependent, but if you pair it with batteries and onsite generation sources, you can create microgrids that give people true resiliency, especially the batteries for a short outage are a great solution, but if you pair it with an inline generator or a gas powered generator, you can actually create a microgrid and run your entire operations, keep your lights on, especially some of our customers are cranking through millions of dollars worth of product every day. If they’re not operational, they’re losing money.

Yeah. It’s an important part and I think to the point about rooftop solar, before I did roof’s and what we call distributed generation, I built utility scale stuff. 250 megawatt, 100 megawatt big solar power plants. And that’s a great solution to get a lot of megawatts on the grid, but really we have to approach changing the way the world is powered by distributed generation, by generating most of the power that you need on your own facility. And unfortunately it’s a little bit tough because there’s 80% of commercial buildings, these nice big, beautiful football field sized buildings with flat roofs that are perfect for solar. 80% of those are, in the US anyway, are leased by companies like mine. And a solar asset is roughly a 20 year commitment and that doesn’t always align with your lease term. So Prologis looked at that, saw that as a problem in the industry, and we said, “If we’re really going to change the way the world is powered, we need to solve this problem.”

And we’re uniquely positioned to do that. So we actually offer a third solution. You can buy your system cash. So you put all the capital down for it, you own it, you put it on someone else’s roof, and you have to deal with how that resolves itself over time or you do a PPA with someone who owns it and finances it and they’ll sign you up for a 20 to 25 year commitment, which you also have to deal with at the end of your lease. So we said, “Hey. We’ll own the system, we’ll install it, we’ll take all the risk of vacancy and other things, and we will make your PPA rate coterminous with your lease. So at the end of your lease, if your lease is only two or three years, hey if you want to renew with us,” which we have tons of renewals, “Great. You get to keep riding this gravy train of good, clean, renewable energy. If not, we’re going to take the risk that the next person is going to want that power and going to want the roof to provide good, clean energy for them.”

Heidi Ellsworth:

That’s great. Wow. That’s good. So George, let’s try it. We know you’re good here. What are you seeing? That same thing with the demand for your systems to start building like Skyler’s talking about.

George Blinick:

Yeah. There’s a number of factors that go into it. I think increasingly we see a lot of commercial and industrial scale companies start to formalize ESG goals. They recognize, whether they want to or not, that sustainability is the way of the future. And a lot of times putting solar on your roof is a really good starting place. Again, there’s multiple ways that you can go into it and a lot of the companies that we’re fortunate enough to work with have different goals. And even within the Prologis portfolio for example, there’s a wide range of customers who have a variety of different circumstances where it’s really just a big box to store things to really sophisticated automation. And again, solar offers the opportunity to provide green electrons to your building. It’s a really good source of power. And then again, once you start to pair it with some of these additional systems like batteries, it really starts to add some good resiliency to the building as well. Yeah.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. Before we move on I do want to just one more time kind of hit that legislation too. It just seems like you’re looking at the infrastructure bill and you’re looking at the IRA and tax credits, domestic manufacturing that that’s being pushed. There’s just so many reasons to start becoming more self-sufficient through solar on the roof.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. And to that, I think manufacturing is actually really coming home with this new bill. This one’s unique in what they’ve offered. Before there hasn’t been a whole lot of that as a component of the tax incentives and things that drives some of these customers towards solar. But talking to all the industry folks that we work with, PanelClaw and the panel manufacturers and inverter manufacturers, all these great racking manufacturers, the racking guys can pull that lever really quick. It’s aluminum, it’s steel. They’re already queued up and ready to go and shifting all of this manufacturing, growing their lines here, shutting down lines in other locations.

And at the same time, I think I see the electronic side of stuff moving this way because before it was a short lived thing and you couldn’t put all the work and effort into growing your domestic manufacturing without the risk of, “Oh, I’m not sure what’s going to happen next year.” And no one’s going to run their business that way. So with the longevity that the recent bill provides, people can really actually invest in domestic manufacturing. So we really are bringing solar manufacturing components back home. And then on top of that, the IRA offered an additional 10% tax incentive for using prevailing wage on roof. So all my union contractors out there are really excited about that. Makes it much more viable to work with folks like that on private projects like myself. So looking forward to growing our craft base in that way.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. Wow.

George Blinick:

Yeah.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Oh, go ahead George. Go.

George Blinick:

Yeah. I was going to say, one of the things that I think has been a barrier to entry for companies in the past that were looking to get solar is just the upfront cost associated with owning and building system. It’s fairly capital intensive. Not as much as starting a manufacturing plant from scratch, but still fairly expensive systems. And a bill like the IRA that does offer quite a bit of credit back for your system that’s built in the US, it’s produced by or built using parts that have been produced in the US, you get a lot of that money back right away and the financials start to make a lot of sense for a lot of people.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. Up to 50%. If you can do the domestic material component and the prevailing wage, you’re talking about 50%.

George Blinick:

And you’re in a low income area or your own brown field. There’s quite a bit of nuance that goes into it that starts to make it really, really attractive if you’re just looking at it from the financial perspective, not even caring about the planet.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Right. Well it helps when those two go together. It always sells. We get a lot further faster.

George Blinick:

Right.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. Again, please make your comments, any questions you have. Paul Viteroff, you did just say, “Right on guys. Industrial policy is greater than tariffs.” So we’ve got some comments going on there that please, we want to have a great discussion about this. Before we move on Rob, one thing, what are you seeing from Johns Manville side of things with the legislation and some of the things that are coming out here? You’re working with so many building owners.

Rob Hughes:

We are and I think it’s important to note that in addition to large sophisticated customers like Prologis and other companies like them, we’re seeing a lot of activity from things like school systems, from municipalities, also looking at and going ahead with solar installs on their roofs. So it’s a broader base I think than the conversation that we’re having because year over year we’ve seen about a 15% uptick in solar overburden applications here at JM from a year ago August. And I think that’s indicative across the industry.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. We’re seeing it and we’re getting some other comments in too and I think when you really look at this, this is an industry overall initiative that everyone’s looking at and really trying. So we had Ted Bleecker, “Thank you. With Unirac has numerous systems already compliant with domestic manufacturing for IRA compliance. We are actively working on this initiative.” So a lot of people have their eyes looking there.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah and Unirac’s got a unique offering in the market that helps with ballasted roofs and other things like that. Yeah. Unirac’s a great company, a great contributor to the cause here.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. It’s going to take all of us to make this happen. Scott Snyder just came through and he gave us a link from the IRA Inflation Reduction Act and it’s impact on solar. So that’s in the chat if people want to see that. Thank you Scott. Thank you everybody for your comments. I do want to start talking a little bit about, Skyler, your initiative through Prologis because I think this goes with just exactly what we’re talking about here of net zero by 2040. You have that on your website. It is a strong initiative. Please tell us about that.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. Yes. It’s a bold initiative. I’m kind of wearing it behind my background at all times. It’s something I keep top of mind. So yeah. Today we have something I think it’s 350 megawatts of solar installed, enough to power about 65,000 homes in the US and we’re looking to grow that. We originally had committed to getting to 400 megawatts by 2025 and we’re on a track to blow right past that. So we actually doubled down on our commitment and we’re committed to building and hosting a full gigawatt, which is 1000 megawatts, on our buildings by 2025.

In addition to that, we’re upgrading all of our facilities with LED lighting to reduce cost of operations there as well as more efficient HVAC units and water heaters and things like that. Just trying to reduce the overhead for all of our customers. And then we’re actually also looking to reduce our scope one, two, and three carbon emissions and that’s basically what net zero means is all the operations that we conduct are carbon neutral. All the building materials that we procure, we build 100 to 150 buildings every year around the world. And all the building materials are a heavy part of the carbon footprint. So we’re reducing that. And then scope three is what our customers are consuming and doing inside of our buildings. So we’re working with them to reduce their carbon footprint as well.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Wow. That is powerful. That is just so cool. Rob, from a manufacturing side of it with Johns Manville, I think it’s really interesting too is you look at this initiative, carbon neutral construction by 2025. This is a huge initiative. It takes everybody coming together to make that happen.

Rob Hughes:

You bet. And Johns Manville is, we talked about sustainability earlier and resilience. JM has programs looking at both of those things in terms of our manufacturing. But honestly, our role in the solar thing is here to support the building owners and to support the companies like PowerFlex that are going ahead and putting these operations on our roofs.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. I do want to point out, sorry Skyler, that you also have an energy and sustainability essentials, solar energy at scale. So there’s a lot of great information that you have on the site that’s going to help people out there if they want to also try to do some of these initiatives, right?

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. For sure. And like I said, we’ve got a fairly unique offering in the market. Yeah. We do more than just solar. We do battery storage, microgrid offerings, and EV charging for your employees as well as your fleet. So we’re helping all of our customers transition their fleet to electric or hydrogen vehicles and electric yard hustlers and electric forklifts and all kinds of other things on top of our essentials marketplace actually we sell racking because a lot of our customers have racks that they’re storing product on and we can buy that in bulk and offer it at a discount and have it readily available instead of today’s market waiting like a year to get some steel for racking. Yeah. It’s, like I said, a little unique in the way that we approach things, not just being a landlord, but our solar and energy efficiency program is growing by leaps and bounds right now.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Wow. And George, as you’re looking at this, PowerFlex is in such a perfect position basically to be able to help to make this net zero by 2040 initiative happen. Talk to us a little bit about what you’re seeing, maybe not just with Prologis, but with a lot of the companies out there who have these similar initiatives.

George Blinick:

Yeah. So perhaps by design actually. PowerFlex is, just to give a bit of history on the company, PowerFlex as you know it today is the culmination of two older companies, Old Venture Solar and Old PowerFlex. Venture Solar was a New York based solar specific company focusing on the commercial and industrial scale sized projects and Old PowerFlex was doing battery storage, EV charging, and energy management systems as well. So there’s a pretty extensive software and product development component to that company.

Combine the two together, you get PowerFlex today, which has the full suite of offerings at solar storage, EV charging, energy management systems, data acquisition, everything that you could really want under your roof to have a resilient onsite system that’s capable of generating renewable energy for your building. We’ve seen quite a bit of solar projects come through the pipeline lately, but increasingly we have quite a bit of battery projects as well. There’s a huge demand for EV charging. It incentivizes new employees that may say, “Hey. I just bought this Tesla and I’m not really sure I can come work for you if you don’t have a charger at your facility.”

Similarly there’s other customers that we work with who really want to flex their muscles a little bit on what they can do from a micro group perspective and whether it’s justified by the type of product that they have and the lows that they have on site or they know that it’s coming, they want to experiment with it, they want to test it, and really work out all the kinks associated with it, that’s what PowerFlex is here to do. We manage it all, we build it, and we make sure it’s operational for you.

Heidi Ellsworth:

That’s excellent. We can just see how all this is coming together. So let’s talk about how’s the roofing industry, how are roofing contractors going to be a big part of this because that’s been a conversation for many, many years. And so we have a couple questions out here and I just want to let Charlie and Greg know I’ll come back to those questions because we’re actually going to talk about that right now and then we’ll bring those questions back up, but let’s really talk about the alignment of the roof and the solar install. And Skyler, you had a lot of comments about this when we were prepping this week, but just how important it is to start understanding how these two align so you are not off with one maybe being past its life expectancy and another one just brand new. So talk us a little bit about that.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah, yeah. For sure. So we own a lot of roofs and so we’re very savvy on roofs and we protect our roofs as a precious resource. That’s what keeps the water out of our clients’ facilities and things like that and it’s actually critical to, in our opinion, to align the life of the roof with the life of your solar system. As I said before a couple times, 20 years is roughly the kind of baseline for a solar system’s useful life. You can push that up to about 30 with good maintenance and things like that and quality products. And just so happens that a typical roof’s life is between 20 and 30 years. So if we’re not doing this then we’re setting ourselves up for future costs and downtime. So we always try to align our re-roofs with our solar installs. We’ll actually accelerate our plan to re-roof a site and fund that partially through the solar program in order to get them aligned.

It’s that important to us. And then where we haven’t done that or where we purchase some buildings where we’re hosting a system that wasn’t aligned with the roof, it does create a need to basically remove the whole solar system, do the re-roof, and then put the system back in and possibly re-power it where you’re going to upgrade some of the components of it. Yeah. To us it’s a critical step to take and it’s something that I think any building owner or tenant in the building should be aware of their roofs condition first of all and ask your landlord, “Hey. When’s that roof due to replace?” And try to start planning now for adding solar components to align with that timeframe.

Heidi Ellsworth:

So as you’re looking at your budget since you’re going forward to that next step, if you do not have solar, it’s so important to put all that together at the same time. And we talked about this, there’s a lot of solar. I remember 20 years ago, all the solar that was going on and there’s a lot of solar that’s coming to the end of his life right now and George, maybe you can talk just a little bit because I know that there’s some options. There’s re-power, there’s replace, or there’s repair. What are people doing around that?

George Blinick:

Yeah. Kind of all three, to be honest. It really depends on the customer, what their experience with solar has been thus far. At the very least, in order to re-roof effectively you have to deconstruct the system. Actually I’ll give a quick shout out to Steve Burns and Decom Solar, former Venture Solar employee there. They actually spun off to do their own thing related to that because there is going to be such an increase in demand to remove these systems and re-power them. And really there’s a few different ways that you can go about it. Skyler sort of alluded to it at the beginning where really if you’re not quite aligned with your solar install and your roof install in the first place, re-powering gives you a nice opportunity to reuse some of your existing equipment that’s still fully functional and will continue to be so for a long time.

The nice thing about solar panels is that there’s no mechanical parts to it. There’s no moving parts. So assuming there’s not impact damage associated with it, those things will continue to produce power long after even their warranty period. That being said, some of the microelectronics that go into these systems, some of the inverter technologies have gotten significantly better in the last couple years. We still think there’s a long way to go to, but at the same time a lot of these system components are due to be updated and sort of like a nice little makeover that you can do for your system to get quite a bit more life out of it.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Along that line, we just had a question because as these systems are coming of age and you’re fixing them, upgrading them, however, one the questions from Alicia was, “What is the recyclability of the batteries and solar components of the various grids?”

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. There’s actually a whole industry growing around that as well. Batteries are a big component. There are useful chemicals and other things we can break down and reuse their. So cell phones, everyone’s walking around with batteries in their pockets these days. So there’s a tremendous amount of lithium ion battery recycling that’s already in place and it’s growing every day because it’s critical to recapture what we can out of those and save those precious components. Same thing with solar. Solar’s got precious components inside of it. We just got to break it down. California recently, I think it was 2019, passed laws that declared them officially not hazardous material, but in the process added some regulations that really tightly control how we dispose of these panels. So folks like Decom will actually go up on your roof, they’ll test every panel, make sure that it’s functional. If it is functional, we’re reusing it.

It’s recycle, reduce, reuse. We all remember the triangle. So reuse is a primary way to use these things. Even if they’re not producing that peak performance, they still have good useful life on them. We can donate those to other people in need. Often they go over to other countries that don’t have the means in manufacturing and transportation resources to get these things and sometimes they go to disadvantaged communities and Habitat for Humanity and folks like that. There’s a lot of opportunity to reuse, but then there’s also the recycle component and in my local area here what’s been put in place ensures that these things don’t go to landfills, they don’t go into the solid waste stream. They get diverted over to recyclers who are breaking them down for their useful components.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Wow.

George Blinick:

And they should because realistically a solar panel is a silicon wafer with some sort of metallic back sheet, typically aluminum, and an aluminum frame with a glass cover. So all three of those components are recyclable and they should be. You can make them again really. And similarly there’s a lot of other components within the balance of systems associated with solar project that are recyclable as well. All the conductors can be recycled, cable tray. Any sort of metallic component can be recycled and really should be recycled to make sure that we’re getting the most out of it.

Heidi Ellsworth:

So when we talk about we’re kind of using this term 20 years ago and now we’re seeing that these need to be repaired, replaced, whatever it may be, the solar rays, but also George you’re talking about the new ones that are going on. Are they even a longer life expectancy or is that about the same going 20 to 30 years?

George Blinick:

Yeah. 20 to 30 years is about the life that we’re seeing right now. It really comes down to the warranty period. So anecdotally we have a family friend who’s had a system that’s been producing for him for 40 plus years at this point. That being said, for somebody that is investing quite a bit of money into their systems, they don’t necessarily want it to be operating too far outside its warranty period because at that point should something break, it’s then on them to cover the cost of replacing and updating that. Typically we’re seeing 25 year warranty periods for modules. Similarly for racking as well. Panel clogging and rack are both quite robust in terms of their guarantees associated with those products.

And then unfortunately some of the inverter technology and microelectronics are a little bit shorter timescale. So typically a building owner that’s going to put solar on their roof would expect to replace those electronic components probably once within the life cycle of that 25 year period, maybe twice depending on if the location is in a harsher environment like you’re on a coastline that’s exposed to a lot of wind, a lot of sea air that’s salty, has a tendency to corrode some of those components. Hopefully at some point we might start to see longer life cycles associated with that, but at the moment, 25 years is about the number.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. And the thing about a system that’s been operating for 40 years, which is impressive as heck, but that system, 40 years ago the technology that was available, the same square footage of panels, could probably produce five times the amount of power today. So the wattage per square foot, if we want to think about it in roof terms, has gone up significantly and now we got bifacial so you get nice cool roofs. The TPO we’re mostly replacing all of our old BUR roofs with TPO, not just because it’s an easier membrane to install, but also because it’s a cool roof and it reduces the temperature of the building, but that also has that high reflectivity value actually has solar value. We’re bouncing photons off of that roof and we want to catch those. So we started to see payment manufacturers go to what’s called a bifacial so it’s actually clear on the back.

So instead of having an opaque back sheet, it’ll be clear on the back so the solar medium, sandwiched between two pieces of glass now, can actually benefit from the photons that are coming at it from above and those that are reflecting back off the roof, which is adding incremental power production to every panel. Yeah. The technology’s getting better and better every day, but yeah. We are also dealing with electronics here and how long does your cell phone last? So 10 years for an inverter is actually pretty sweet. We can push it to 12 or 13. And if we upgrade our roofing material from a 60 mil TPO to an 80 mil TPO, we believe, Prologis believes, that we can get 30 plus years out of a solar system, which would maybe necessitate that third replacement.

So every 10 years or so we might be replacing little electronics and then the solar panels should last until 30 plus years and we just try and align that with the roof. So again, looking to jam and folks like them to support us with great products that’ll have the longevity to not have problems while we’re operating the system up there.

Heidi Ellsworth:

[inaudible 00:37:30] on the roof. Yeah. It’s all coming together and it makes sense. We do have a question here and it’s what are the latest developments in thin plastic film based electric solar collecting devices? That’s from Clement. Thank you.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. Thin film’s just a little bit different than your traditional polysilicate [inaudible 00:37:56]. So I’m not the technical expert. I’ll let George field that one.

George Blinick:

Yeah. That’s a great question. I think one of the things that kind of goes on in the background of the solar industry is how are we going to make panels more efficient moving forwards? One of the things that is not yet an issue, but at some point is an engineering problem that’s going to need to be addressed, is that as panels keep getting bigger they, most of the time, have not increased in efficiency very much. Sorry. So to increase the wattage of solar panel, module manufacturers have just been adding more and more and more sort of cells is the term associated with it. There’s more cells, they’re a larger format, they’re huge. You need two or three people to carry them around on the roof in order to make sure that the roof is protected. You’re not damaging the modules, you’re not damaging the roof during the install.

It requires significantly more robust racking system because you can think of a solar panel on a roof as kind of like sail. It’s a great place for wind to collect and the last thing that you want is your panels falling off the roof. It would be a bad time. If there’s a way to shrink the format and decrease the size while maintaining the waters or even increasing it, I think that’s sort of the way to go. That being said, having come from academia myself, I did a little bit of research on module materials. There has not been the crossover into being commercially viable yet. So thin film is a technology, perovskite solar panels are another option and really what all of these are looking at are either different fabrication techniques.

So perovskite’s are made using wet chemistry’s. Thin film, again, sort of using some chemistry techniques to actually produce these panels really, really nice increases in efficiency, but again, when you try and do gigawatts worth of them, they aren’t as viable. So hopefully there’s a lot more to come. I know I have some old friends that are working hard on this problem and obviously want them to succeed because it would help us all out in the roofing world and in the solar world as well, but for right now, really it’s going to be silicon for the next couple years.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Okay. Great questions everybody. Thank you so much and great answer George. Thank you. I wanted to switch over a little bit here to really what’s happening with contractors and the important things that kind of what to know. You brought up 80 mill TPO. These are some of the things you’re looking for. And Rob, there is a lot that goes on with inspections and maintenance for solar programs. So ones that are already on there and then having a plan for ones that are coming, can you talk a little bit about that?

Rob Hughes:

Sure. And like Skyler was talking about the longevity of the system, the roof system and aligning that with the PV system, as much as that it’s about aligning the guarantee with it. So thicker membranes, more robust details, we can go ahead and offer 30 year guarantees to keep those two things in alignment. No building owner wants a roof on their building without a guarantee. But to your question, in terms of from the contractor’s perspective, so a lot of these are going on new roofs, but quite a few are going on existing roofs. So getting a handle on what that roof condition is at the front end is imperative. You have to know what’s going on there because once again back to that alignment issue, if you’re putting a brand new PV system on a 10 year old roof, well you’re going to be out of alignment there.

And so going ahead and performing maintenance, your manufacturer should be a great resource for going ahead and getting an inspection, coming up with some sort of maintenance checklist, maintenance scope of work to go ahead and bring that roof to a place where you feel comfortable putting that PV system on top of it. Of course for the process itself, any PV system, and this is typical of all manufacturers, the manufacturers, we want to know what’s going up there. What kind of attachments are you using? What type of racking system are you using? How’s that interfacing with the roof? And of course we want the building owner to acknowledge by way of what’s called an overburden waiver what their responsibilities are in terms of the roof. The roofing manufacturer doesn’t take responsibility for the PV system, the owner does and how it interacts with the roof. So with that, JM requires a backend inspection.

So once that PV install is completed, we want to know what shape the roof is in, how everything went together. It’s terrific to have great partners like PowerFlex and Prologis. They’re great customers to work with and they do a great job. The number one thing I’d say is the process. George was talking about two or three guys to carry around a panel. It’s a lot of traffic on a roof. So one of the things that we look at very closely is what damage might have been sustained during that install. It’s like putting a herd of elephants on a roof with tools and sharp objects and a lot of things can happen. So our job in the guarantee world is to protect the interest of the owner and to protect the interest of the guarantee. And so we do that by putting our techs in the field, on the roof, and taking a good look at things

Heidi Ellsworth:

So ahead of it, during, and after. You’re constantly inspecting these roofs.

Rob Hughes:

If necessary. We’ used to require a front end inspection. I think back in the beginning we were talking about 20 years ago in the solar industry and we have a phrase around here, we call that the wild west because things were a little bit crazy. And so we did require front end inspections. We no longer require the front end inspections. Of course were more than willing to perform one if the customer wants it, whether it be because it’s a roof system that has a few years on it, we want to get an idea of what might be done to bring that up to speed to put the solar on it or simply to take that snapshot in time. We don’t want the PV installer being blamed for some condition on the roof that might be there when they arrive.

So getting a look at it is certainly in their best interest. Very large or more complicated systems, we’re definitely willing to come take a look during because a lot of things get covered up. If you think about how much room that takes up on the rooftop, there’s limited access to areas and that’s one of the parts of the overburden waiver. So if there were a problem with the roof, the owner needs to be responsible for moving those components to get to the roof to identify, to inspect, to go ahead and service it. Knock on wood, JM hasn’t had one single major issue with any PV install so long as we’ve been doing them and we hope to keep moving forward by being diligent about those things.

Heidi Ellsworth:

That’s excellent. We have a question around that too, Rob. It says, “On this trim tad,” he said, “Will roof warranty intact if installed solar panel on the roof with some penetrations?” Well, okay. “Will the roof warranty stay intact if installed solar panels on the roof with some penetration? Will roof manufacturers cover the roof warranty if solar installed on the roof?” And so you kind of answered that, but maybe one more time.

Rob Hughes:

You bet. So that’s the whole purpose of the process is to maintain the guarantee is to make sure that we maintain the integrity of the guarantee. So in JMs case, and I’m sure this is typical of all major manufacturers, we want you to use one of our contractors who’s approved by us for installing our systems to take care of any of the penetrations and then those components, if they’re JM components, would be wrapped into the guarantee as part of it.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Excellent. Oh, go ahead.

George Blinick:

I was just going to say that we as Powerflex have a good relationship with the building owners preferred roofing vendor and the roofer period because realistically during install, our subcontractor that may, or if PowerFlex was performing in-house, we typically don’t. We subcontract out that work. The roofer is the one whose responsible for installing the mechanically attached or the-

Heidi Ellsworth:

We lost George. For everybody out there, he’s actually in downtown Manhattan. You would think internet would be good there, but as we know, it’s not always the case.

Skyler Shipley:

So pick up where George left off maybe.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah. Go ahead.

Skyler Shipley:

I’ll just say from an owner’s perspective and having been an EPC contractor myself in the past, I think it’s absolutely critical to have that pre-inspection. Protects the contractor and makes sure that they’re not responsible for damages that may be preexisting. And like Rob said, you’re going to cover up a bunch of stuff. And we always make sure that we also, in solar design as you’re looking at designs of systems, you want to give good clearance to drainage where people are going to have to go and perform maintenance and inspections, some of those failure points, control joints or expansion joints within the roof. Always make sure you’re giving everyone plenty of room to do work around those and avoid impacting those things. We always make sure our conduits and stuff like that go up and over expansion joints and allow the expansion to occur.

So roofers have a critical component. We use a third party independent group that does the inspections for us, works with our preferred roofer, or if it’s a brand new roof or only a couple years old, we’re still doing that inspection. Having that roofer come back and making any repairs that are necessary, getting the most maintenance done we possibly can before we put the solar system down. And then during the system install, there’s still a ton of roof components going on. You got slip sheets underneath all the major components to allow for that small movement and vibration not to rub on the membrane. You have a sacrificial pad there. Then got, like Rob was saying, we’re throwing a herd of elephants up there to put the system in, but even after the system’s installed, there’s still more traffic on your roof because there is regular annual maintenance.

Sometimes two or three times a year someone’s going to go up there and clean panels depending upon where you live. So we’re trying to protect those high traffic areas. So we’ll also put down the high traffic pads in front of all the major equipment where you might have a worker standing, dropping tools, things like that, and then on the path to that location. And then on top of that there’s the regular mechanical attachments, these great U anchors and things like that and matching the skirt of that anchor with the membrane. Hopefully the same manufacturer to make sure that it’s all one cohesive system.

Rob Hughes:

And Skyler touches on a couple of the great points there. That access during the install of the system and making sure that they’re protected paths and work areas, that stuff is so important to the success of the project. But I want to back up on one thing there and you mentioned drainage. So one of the reasons why manufacturers like to review the plans is because what’s the most important part of a roof is getting the water off, right? And when you’re putting a lot of components up there, it’s not always clear that you want to avoid things like ponding water.

You want to avoid areas that are going to trap water or slow down the flow of water on the roof. Well the code certainly has requirements for access and spacing and kind of areas that have to be left clear, it doesn’t really address directly the fact, other than saying, “Don’t block the drainage.” So we go through as part of that review process looking at the plans and make sure that we’re not seeing anything jumping out at us that’s going to say, “Hey. Here’s a problem area and we probably need to address that before it’s installed.”

Heidi Ellsworth:

Yeah.

Skyler Shipley:

One of those codes is that you have to have your cabling and wiring, it has to be a certain distance off the deck and that’s specifically to allow flow of water and prevent leaf litter of the debris from building up behind a component that would prevent that flow. So wire management’s a huge component of checking the quality of a solar install. So if you’re walking around a roof and you’re seeing loops of wire kind of resting or laying near the roof, that’s bad. You got to get that up off the roof and prevent that possible maintenance issue from occurring.

Rob Hughes:

And people think of the PV system, they think of just the panels, but Skyler hit on it. You have these tray systems that go on for miles on some of these roofs. You have the inverter locations. There’s a lot of different components that go into this spaced all over the roof. And so there’s really a lot going on in a PV install

Heidi Ellsworth:

A lot of thing. And George, welcome back. We’re glad to have you back. I think we answered those questions and we only have a little bit of time left so I do want to read this one note from Jesse because this is great. He said or she, I’m sorry, Jesse. “Yes. With an overburden solar rider as part of the roofing warranty it states that the manufacturer covers roofing problems, not removal and reinstallation of the overburden to look for leaks caused by others.” [inaudible 00:51:55]

Skyler Shipley:

Maybe there’s too many people watching. We’re breaking the room.

Rob Hughes:

I think we lost you there, Heidi.

Megan Ellsworth:

Hello. My name’s Megan. I will fill in for Heidi. Okay.

Rob Hughes:

Hi Megan.

Megan Ellsworth:

Jessie asked, “Yes. With an overburden solar rider as part of the roofing warranty it states that the manufacturers covers roofing problems, not removal and reinstallation of the overburden to look for leaks caused by others. That’s why it is important to have a good roofer and a pre-install check of the health of the roof.”

Rob Hughes:

100% correct.

Megan Ellsworth:

Fabulous. We also have another comment from David Bauer. “Roofing manufacturers typically cover only manufacturing defects, some such as,” I won’t mention that. “However, I know of none that will cover defects caused by insulation of other attachments on the roof such as solar panels. In fact, most roofing warranties are specifically voided by owner modifications to the roof. I recently replaced a roof that was damaged by a solar install. The solar company paid for the removal of the solar system and roof replacement. What do you guys have to say about that?”

Rob Hughes:

So in terms of guarantees, the overburden waiver is exactly that. It’s a waiver and I think I heard you use the word rider in there, which is something that gets kind of addended to a guarantee that would cover something special. In the case of solar, there are no riders in the industry for the solar system. In other words, the manufacturer, you’re correct, would never take responsibility for having to move that system. But let’s differentiate here. If there’s an issue with the roof that say is something based on the manufacturing or the install, which is covered under the NDL or the no dollar limit guarantee, that would be covered by the manufacturer.

However, the owner would be responsible for moving any panels that might be impacted in order to inspect or to make those repairs. In terms of damage, damage is never covered under the guarantee. You can get a rider, you can get a puncture rider. There are such things, but typically speaking, holes or tears or things like that in the roof caused by traffic on the roof are always the owner’s responsibility unless there’s a specific rider in place like a puncture rider.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. And to David’s point, this is why it’s critical to work with a reputable solar installer such as PowerFlex and their install partners. If you got the right group of people who are qualified, know what they’re doing, they will protect your roof, they will prevent your roof from seeing damage. Some damage is going to occur. You got, like you said, a herd of elephants, I love that term Rob, up on this roof. So there’s inevitably going to be a little something here and there, but with thorough inspection and diligence, most of our installers, if they cause an issue, if they notice that they cause an issue, they circle it themselves. They’re like, “Hey. That’s something we’re going to have to address.” They’ll own it. So if you got the right people on your roof I don’t think you’re going to have many problems, but obviously if the roof is damaged by the solar system, the solar system’s responsible for it.

George Blinick:

Totally. And our preferred subcontractors, a lot of them started life as roofers to begin with. So they understand what goes into a roofing system, the importance of the roofing system, how to protect it during an install so you can herd your elephants appropriately so they’re not doing anything wild. Yeah.

Rob Hughes:

And that is key. And I’ll throw out the word experience, right. You used the word diligence Skyler, but I think that the industry has gotten to a point of maturity where there are a sufficient number of really great experienced people, companies like PowerFlex and their contractors, that know how to make a difference and how to do it properly.

Skyler Shipley:

Yeah. And to George’s point, people think about solar, you think about electricians. Electricians are just one component of a roof install. There’s a lot of mechanical components, not mechanical necessarily like moving parts, but there’s the racking, the install of the panels is pretty much any person can be trained to do that. And to the question I think that Charlie had, there’s a ton of education out there for making the transition into the solar industry. There’s a lot of different resources. I don’t have any at the top of my head, but try and drop some in the chat if I can think of, but there’s actually a really large growing industry to help workers in other fields transition as we’re closing coal plants and things like that for instance. Those workers could become solar workers. And roofers do make some of the best solar employees. Although we like to keep our roofing workforce healthy and strong too. So if you’re a roofer, stick with it. Roofing’s awesome.

Heidi Ellsworth:

I love it. I’m sorry I lost you all there for just a second. I guess Manhattan and [inaudible 00:57:31] are all having internet problems, but I do want to make sure, and I’m so glad you answered Charlie’s question because he was asking, “How do we get training? How do we get more young people into it?” A lot of that, and I’m sharing the screen right now with what Johns Manville has been doing. We’re almost at the end of our hour, but I do want you to know, there’s a whole section here of information that you can find under photovoltaic’s where you can, and Megan’s putting that link in the chat, but where you can find information. This is more on the building owner side of it, but it’s great information for everyone out there. Another topic because we want to continue with the CTE and the training and getting more people in roofing and also that’s going to mean solar too.

There was also a photovoltaic guide, JM installation and reference guide, which can be downloaded. Again, it’s on that page that Megan’s putting the link in. It’s on Roofer’s Coffee Shop. So gentlemen, thank you so much for today. This has been amazing. I think we could go for another hour. The questions are just rolling in.

Rob Hughes:

Fantastic time, Heidi. Thank you.

Heidi Ellsworth:

Thank you. Thank you Rob. Thank you George. Thank you Skyler. If you are interested in getting in touch with these folks, you can again email Roofer’s Coffee Shop, heidi@rooferscoffeeshop.com. We can at least connect and you can see some of the information that’s out there and get any additional questions answered. So we have a lot of chats and it looks like everyone’s just saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” So this is great and I want to say thank you to Johns Manville.

What an awesome topic. What a great thing. Talk about thought leadership and where we’re going in the industry and where we need to be. This has been such a great panel to see all sides, manufacturing, building owner, Skyler, and the solar rays George. Just spectacular. I do want to invite all of you to our next coffee conversations, which is going to be live from MetalCon next week. So join us. We’re going to be talking about metal and what’s happening in what’s hot in metal basically and we’re going to be live at MetalCon with Terry McGuire with New Tech Machinery who is our sponsor of the live Coffee Conversation Sound stage. Also Ken Gieseke with McElroy, John Sheridan with Sheridan Tools, and Mark MacDonald with Sherwin Williams. So as always, this has been recorded. Please share it out. It will be on demand within the next 24 hours and thank you so much for being part of Coffee Conversations. We’ll see you next week.

Skyler Shipley:

Thanks Heidi.

 





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