Solar tiles - an alternative to traditional roofing solutions

This years National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND) Green Innovations Award Phase III took place at the Kenya International Conference Center where different innovators exhibited their green projects. NETFUND usually calls for innovators to forward their ideas, which are then shortlisted and taken through three phases and if they win, they can be supported financially by the Fund so they can upscale and become better commercial ventures.

This years presentations featured numerous ideas and projects including an electric car by Knights Energy, use of biofuels to substitute charcoal, production of fibers from banana seeds, and use of modern green and smokeless charcoal to replace the traditional charcoal, just to mention a few. Another innovation with regard to solar energy category was that of solar roofing tiles presented by Strauss Energy.

Strauss is into the business of incorporating solar cells - called Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) into building materials such as tiles. The solar tile is either made of a plastic material or mixture of plastic and ceramic components, with solar cells being overlayed on top. This model seeks to combine both the advantages of house roofing and power generation. The solar cells work in the normal way by converting sun’s energy into power which is then channeled to power devices at home, office or factory. And with Kenya aiming at generating 13,000 MW by 2030 to support industrial growth, and having now generated only about 2,000 MW in 50 years since independence, after investing in hydro and geothermal power sources, it is hard to figure out how the excess will come in such a short period. Other renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass can contribute to such an agenda - both in small and large scale.

Strauss says they can produce tiles that can generate power depending on customer needs - personal home or industrial. The tile can even be customized to the desired color. They have commercial projects already running from last year. For instance, last year they installed solar roof tiles at Gaitheri secondary school in the Kenya’s Central Province. This rural school had no lighting previously and was using a diesel generator for lighting so students can do studies in the morning. The solar tiles now produce power up to 250kW, enough to run equipment and machinery at their laboratory. The project involved replacing the iron sheets on one building with the tiles. The company also represented Kenya and Africa by exhibiting at the GIST Tech-I Pitch Competition during the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Stanford University this week. 

Once a customer registers with them, they visit their location to assess power needs - commercial or domestic - and environmental factors such as the size of the roof and climate. The next process will be delivering tiles and installing them on a solar roof. The product works very good for those constructing new houses as it can lead to saving 30% in roof construction costs. However, the company can also overhaul the current roof to install the tiles.

Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) can also be integrated into walls, glass, pavements, and even roads in addition to the roofs.

Since the idea uses plastic as a base material for the tile, it also fits well into another category - a plastic recycling project.

Read more on innovations like this on Cleanleap: