New market hurdles

October 3, 2011

Three major factors have discouraged glass installers looking to get involved in solar, says Steve Coonen, BIPV consultant and principal, PV Glassworks, Grass Valley, Calif.: Glass companies are reluctant to work with electricity; they don't know where to get solar products; and projects with solar components have been few and far between.

"Glaziers have the impression that they need to know electrical work," Coonen says. "I think that's a major reason some are not pursuing it as hard."

John Juba, CEO and owner of contract glazier Juba Aluminum Products, agrees that the glazing industry's fear of the unknown has deterred many companies from entering the market. "Companies get into a rut and keep doing the same thing. We saw people being tentative when unitized wall systems and point-supported glass systems came into the market," he says. "However, we've come to a crossroads in our industry. There is an opportunity for companies willing to go out and get the knowledge."

Once companies become more knowledgeable about the solar systems, the electrical component "becomes less scary," says Brendan Dillon, director of product marketing, Pythagoras Solar.

Access to solar products has also become easier during the last several years as the market has evolved. "In the past, this was a hindrance. Companies would ask: do I have to go to Europe, or Asia? They didn't know where to get the products," Coonen says. Today, "glaziers can purchase solar products through the standard channels. The world has changed and companies like [Kawneer Co.], [Guardian Industries] and [PPG Industries] are getting involved," he says.

One hurdle that does still remain for glass companies looking to enter the solar market is the lack of projects. "We see very few [projects] coming out," says Mic Patterson, director of strategic development for Enclos Corp. "We are fully prepared and eager to provide BIPV solutions; the only significant challenge as far as we are concerned is demand, which remains quite low."

Patterson says low demand is in large part due to concerns on the developer's behalf regarding cost and maintenance. Additionally, "the architects are reluctant to include BIPV designs because of a lack of familiarity with the technology, and their own concerns regarding cost and complexity," he says.

Rick Hamlin, executive vice president, estimating and design, for Trainor Glass Co., adds, "These projects seem to go in phases. We will have a spike in bidding BIPV in walls or sunshades and canopies, and then activity falls off. Many times with solar, if there isn't a desire, directive or total customer buy-in, there tends to be some sticker shock.