What makes these green energy structures unique is that the transparent solar photovoltaic panels actually serve as the roof. The attractive multiuse structures offer the ability to charge electric vehicles, run outdoor lighting or use other electric and communication systems in an off-the-grid capacity.
They also can increase property values in a time when energy costs are uncertain and the number of electric cars is on the rise.
"What we have been able to do by working together is to combine two outstanding products to give greater value to the consumer," said Silicon Energy President Gary Shaver. "They have the expertise in the substructure and we have the expertise in the PV modules."
This is a part of the solar market that is under-served, Shaver said. Most people don't think beyond putting solar panels on the roof of their home or business. This concept expands the number of places where solar panels can be installed and expands the possibilities for the use of the power that is generated.
Home owners, businesses and municipalities looking for shade structures or shelters of any kind can now get a better return on their investment by making those structures work for them to generate electricity.
For electric-vehicle owners, there is the added benefit of knowing that even if the cost of electricity increases, the cost of the fuel to power that vehicle will not.
"When you put an EV charging station in, you're literally creating your own e-gas for your electric cars," Shaver said.
The energy can also be diverted for use inside the home or business. This can reduce or even eliminate electricity bills depending on the size of the PV system. In some circumstances, a home or business can put the excess power they produce onto the grid.
PV systems reduce demand on grid resources, which benefits the community as a whole. You could view it as supporting national energy security, Shaver said. The more people who are able to produce their own energy, the more robust the grid as a whole becomes without any additional upgrades. It's also a green renewable energy source.
Currently there are state and federal financial incentives for adding solar energy to your property, which makes installation of integrated PV structures even more feasible. They also come with an added aesthetic benefit.
"What really makes these different and exciting is that it is an attractive product," said Susan Mattison, national sales and marketing specialist for Silicon Energy. Silicon Energy's tempered-glass solar panels are transparent. The PV modules blend in to allow the eye to focus on CrystaLite's sleek railing system. The structure can be customized to complement the existing architecture on the home or business.
The glass-like PV panels are also suitable for diverting rain water for collection. The panel's double glass construction is durable and the panels come with a 30-year warranty.
The idea of combining solar panels with carports, covered patios and picnic shelters is not new. It's something that customers had been requesting of both companies' installers for some time.
"There was a driving force for a partnership after we had done a handful of these jobs," said John Westerfield of CrystaLite. In fact, talk of a partnership to develop this product line has been going on for about three years but it was only officially announced at the Seattle Living Future unConference in May.
Response has been positive. Since the announcement, both companies have been swamped with inquiries.
"It took off way faster than we thought," Westerfield said. "They're off and running."
Both companies are also pleased that their partnership will benefit other local firms. Since the two businesses don't sell directly to the public, Westerfield said, other firms will get work by doing the installation so the money stays local.
Both firms are also strong believers in using as much locally sourced materials as possible. The companies do all their manufacturing in the U.S. and source almost all materials from the U.S.
Interested customers can see photos of a number of existing projects at Silicon Energy's website, www.silicon-energy.com, which also lists a contact page for installers.
But for an up-close view of a practical project installation, look no further than the picnic shelter across from the CrystaLite plant at 3320 Pine St. in Everett.
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