How do we make solar mainstream? There’s been a lot of talk about that lately. French company IRFTS is trying to do something about it by making solar installations cheaper and better-looking. We spoke with North American Operations Manager Mateo Williford recently to learn more.
PV Solar Report: How did IRFTS get started?
Mateo Williford: IRFTS is French for the Fundamental Research Institute of Solar Technology. We were founded in Lyon, France in February of 2009. We incorporated in the U.S. in December of 2013 to bring the EASY ROOF Building Integrated mounting system to market.
PVSR: What problem are you trying to solve, and how?
MW: Currently, most PV is mounted on top of the roof. Building-integrated PV (BIPV) is the roof. It simply looks better. If we are going to take solar mainstream, we have to make it look good. As well, replacing roofing material with PV reduces the overall costs to a customer.
PVSR: What makes you different from others doing something similar?
MW: EASY ROOF is not a solar shingle. We are a BIPV mounting solution. You can use almost any standard 60-cell module with it. Our mounting system attaches the PV to the roof and creates a water-tight seal. System performance is higher and costs lower than with solar shingles.
PVSR: How has EASY ROOF been received so far in Europe?
MW: In Europe, IRFTS has over 40,000 EASY ROOF installations. In France, EASY ROOF accounts for 40% of the residential market. EASY ROOF is the standard for building-integrated PV.
PVSR: How does adoption in the U.S. differ from Europe?
MW: We have two key challenges for the U.S. market. One, our product is somewhat of a cross between standard mounting and BIPV. Figuring out what certifications and standards we need has been a process. And two, this is an entirely new product to U.S. installers. Educating them about the cost and visual advantages of our product is key.
PVSR: What are you working on currently?
MW: We have five installations in New York through Empire Clean Energy Supply. Here in the West, we just finished three installations in Palm Desert, California, Oakland, California, and Denver, Colorado. In Denver, the customer was replacing a wood shingle roof with concrete tile. He saved a ton of money on tile by using EASY ROOF. It’s also significant because this is the first PV install the HOA allowed on the front of a house.
On my way back to Oakland, I was stuck in the Denver airport for a few hours. A woman next to me asked what I do. “Solar” I said. She says, “it’s popping up all over — but … but … it looks horrible. Why doesn’t someone come up with a way to fix that?”
That is what we did.
PVSR: What kinds of roofs does EASY ROOF work well for?
MW: EASY ROOF is compatible with every pitched roof type. The vast majority of our European installations have been tile with battens, but we have also installed on tile without battens and comp shingle here in the U.S. We can also work with metal roofs. We expect most of our market to be residential, but any pitched commercial roof is fine.
PVSR: What does the future hold for IRFTS?
MW: Coming up on a year in the U.S., things are getting busy. We recently hired a mechanical engineer and expect to grow sales, marketing, training, and technical support in the near future.
The future is bright for building-integrated PV, and I expect EASY ROOF to become the market leader in the U.S. just as it has in Europe.
Mateo Williford is the Manager of North American Operations at IRFTS. Prior to that he spent six years as the Technologist at Sungevity. He has been working in the Renewable energy space for over 17 years now. He has a C-46 California Solar Contractor license and is a NABCEP Certified Installation Professional.