Stepping into solar

If you want to see the campus sustainability plan of Providence College in Providence, R.I., all you have to do is take a stroll past its student center, the Slavin Center, and look up. Sitting on top of the two-level glass-enclosed recent addition to the building is a standing-seam metal roof with thin-film building integrated photovoltaics, a system known as ATA-Solar.

This sustainable project marks many firsts: it is the first PV installation for roofing contractor Roofing Concepts of East Greenwich, R.I., and the first installation of ATA-Solar, a new product manufactured by ATAS International Inc., Allentown, Pa. It also is the first PV installation on campus utilized to generate electricity.

Installing a new type of PV system may be intimidating, but according to Walter Fox, estimator with Roofing Concepts, there is nothing to fear with ATA-Solar. “There was a little bit of a learning curve with it, but it really doesn’t change the installation of the roof. It is pretty much the same as a typical standing-seam roof.” This is true because ATA-Solar, unlike some manufacturers’ BIPV systems, is factory-assembled and shipped to a job site ready to install.

The ATA-Solar system on the Slavin Center is a 24-gauge steel standing-seam roof panel in a Silversmith color with a thin-film amorphous silicon laminate applied. In all, 4,880 square feet of metal roofing and 72 18-foot laminates were installed. The laminates have a rating of 136 watts DC each, yielding a total system rating of 9.792 kW.

The Slavin Center originally opened in 1971 and it was rededicated with the addition to the south side of the building in September. The $6 million project took eight months to complete. The lower level of the two-level addition contains a large, open student lounge with an adjacent coffee and snack shop, PC Perk and features seating areas, some with flat-screen TVs. The upper level consists of a large, L-shaped quiet student lounge for studying and small social gatherings. The primary renovations to the existing building were the expansion of studio space for WDOM-FM radio and PC TV. In addition to ATAS and Roofing Concepts, others involved with the project include: architect, Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, Cambridge, Mass.; roofing distributor, Beacon Sales Co. Inc., Cranston, R.I.; general contractor, Farrar & Associates Inc., Newport, R.I.; and electrical contractor, Rossi Electric Co. Inc., Cranston.

A new system
ATA-Solar consists of three main parts—the metal roof panel; thin-film amorphous silicon laminate; and electrical components, including the inverter to convert DC power to AC power, disconnects, wire and the cable tray with mounting clips. The installation process order is: first the roofing panels, which are shipped to the job site with the laminate already in place; then the cable tray; followed by the electrical connection of the laminates; and finally the cable tray cap.

When selecting an ATA-Solar roof, options include ATAS Field-Lok FLM165, FLS180 and Dutch Seam MRD194, available in steel or aluminum, as well as other roofing panels as a special option. The laminates are available in lengths of 18 feet or 9 feet, 4 inches, and they are 15-1/2 inches wide. The PV laminate is manufactured by United Solar Ovonic, Rochester Hills, Mich. The electrical components are procured by the electrical contractor, except for the cable tray and mounting clips, supplied by ATAS. The kilowatt capacity of ATA-Solar depends on the layout of the roof and the type of roofing panels used. Building owners can choose a kilowatt range from 1 to 120 or more and ATAS will help guide owners, contractors and architects through the selection process.

Get into solar
ATAS offers a two-day course on PV installations. The course, Building Your Business with Metal Roofing, takes place monthly at the Allentown facility. 

Some roofing contractors may be leery of entering the solar market, but the installation process is simple. “The advantage of ATA-Solar is that there is no difference in installing the roof. The roofing contractor can install this like a regular metal roof,” says John Van Den Elzen, sustainable building products specialist for ATAS. “The ATAS standing-seam roof panels remain unaltered as standard, except that the PV laminates are factory-applied to the roof panels in a controlled environment. This alleviates problems that occur with other PVs that are applied in-field.”

Contractors should keep in mind the laminates can be cut for a roof penetration, such as a ventilation pipe, without destroying the laminate. This is possible because the laminate consists of 22 solar cells in an 18 feet length and 11 solar cells in a 9-foot, 4-inch piece. When one solar cell is cut, the balance of 21 or 10 solar cells, respectively, will still produce electricity. “This is not possible with competitive crystalline PV panel; damage to crystalline panels ceases production of electricity,” Van Den Elzen says.

Fox pointed out though that attention to detail during planning is required because “you can’t modify the panels to fit. The drawings have to be precise.”

If you are a roofing contractor who offers maintenance as part of your customer service plan, note that ATA-Solar may require basic cleaning in a dirty environment, but otherwise, the maintenance is the same as any ATAS standing-seam metal roof. Also, ATA-Solar can be walked on without damaging the laminate.

Roofing contractors shouldn’t let the electrical aspects of a solar installation stop them from entering the sustainable construction market. For ATA-Solar, a roofing contractor only installs the cable tray and cap. The electrical contractor connects all PV laminates; completes the electrical installation, including the inverter and connection to the building; and installs the wiring. The electrical contractor has to be certified by the state in which the project takes place or be a member of the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

Team effort
Like every job, cooperation among all the contractors is vital to a successful project. “The installation of the BIPV should be coordinated between the general contractor, the electrical contractor and the roofing contractor to confirm each role in the installation and how they will work together,” Van Den Elzen said.

In addition to the training course, ATAS provides the installation drawings and instructions to the roofing contractor and supplies all standard electrical diagrams, a list of components and where to procure them at special negotiated prices. ATAS staff also will be available for onsite help as needed because it is committed to ensuring every project is as successful as the Slavin Center, a great PV start for Roofing Concepts, ATAS and Providence College.

“Thinking about installing a building integrated photovoltaic system may be enough to make some roofing contractors run from a project bid,” says Jim Bush, vice president of sales for ATAS. “But if you know how to properly install a standing-seam roof, you can install ATA-Solar. With this system, and with very little learning and effort, you can offer your customers a sustainable option and take your company in a new, greener direction.”

Kate Gawlik is a marketing consultant for ATAS International Inc., Allentown, Pa.

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