By Janice Kurbjun - Summit Daily News
A centerpiece of the president's State of the Union address, Michigan-based LUMA Resources makes its first Colorado solar shingles install
This week, Carolyn Wheeler's roof in Keystone is being replaced with a new product to Summit County — the first Colorado installation of Michigan-based LUMA Resources' building-integrated solar shingles.
What's so special about a new solar company coming to Colorado, particularly since it's not bringing the first building-integrated system?
The product gained the attention of President Barack Obama as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
LUMA co-owner, Robert Allen, and his brother, Gary, manned a high-end roofing company based in a small community north of Detroit and worked regionally. But this year, after coming up with their version of the solar shingle — a photovoltaics system that eliminates the need for a new roof for an array — they've moved onto the national stage.
Their homegrown innovation and effort to reinvent themselves as an American manufacturer led the seasoned roofers to be invited to sit next to First Lady Michelle Obama during January's State of the Union address to hear the president describe their work in the speech. From that point, there was no looking back.
After the Washington, D.C. event, Allen came home to literally thousands of emails from people asking how they could help build his company, as well as from interested customers.
Keystone homeowner Carolyn Wheeler's email was among that flood of messages.
She said she wanted to know more about the product because of its back-story. She tends to support entrepreneurs who go out on a limb and work hard for what they want to do — like her son Jerry Wheeler, who owns Billboard Ecology in Denver.
"Entrepreneurs are what this country needs," Wheeler said.
After doing her homework with the guidance of Robert Allen and Dillon general contractor KC Custom Builders, she found she liked the appearance of LUMA Resource's product. It seemed to work differently and could better meet her home's needs, she said.
As he overlooked the project workers maneuvering themselves, the shingles and their tools around Wheeler's south-facing roof this week, Allen said, "Six years ago, I would've never dreamed of this. This whole endeavor has put me in front of some pretty engaging people, not least of which is the man himself."
A visit from NREL
Allen decided to take LUMA's solar shingles to the Wheeler's home overlooking the Gore Range in Colorado for two reasons: He wanted to get his product in a state that's listed as ripe for solar, and he wanted to allow the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to take a look.
Ted James was one of the NREL scientists to take a look at the innovative roofing system as part of his research for a report on what's known as building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), which differs from the traditional building-applied version.
A building-integrated product "eliminates that cost of (shingle) material and labor because, for that space our system occupies, it is the roof," Allen said.
Always keeping an eye on commercial-sector innovations, NREL experts took an interest in the product.
"Our lab meets with companies (and other industry stakeholders) all the time or else we risk focusing too much on what's happening in the lab and not the marketplace," James stated in an email about his visit to Summit County. "I'm working on a report about BIPV, and I've spoken with lots of industry stakeholders (over a hundred) on this topic. Because there are many system designs and photovoltaics technologies involved in these types of products, it's to our advantage to see as many products as possible."
He and his colleague doubled the Keystone visit to meet with Daniel Burmann of Stellar Energy Contractors (the solar subcontractor on the job) to better understand installations for another upcoming report.
Solar roofing could cost less
Allen's materials are slightly more expensive in comparison to the building-applied version, but he touts overall cost savings in reduced labor.
Traditional building-applied solar arrays often require homeowners to install a new roof.
It's meant to be an easy-to-install, "turn-key" system for the trained professionals in each area the product comes to, Allen said. Burmann, who's had experience with more than one solar shingle product, said, "This one ... is 100 times better" from an installation standpoint.