Tariffs and tax credits dominate solar policy at the federal level. But all politics is local, and so are some of the policies that hamper solar installation.
They include the rules laid down by homeowners’ associations and historic districts, whose gatekeepers often frown on the aesthetic impact of solar panels.
That’s where Sistine Solar comes in. Based in Somerville, Mass., the startup has patented decorative skins that are applied to solar panels. The skins, branded as SolarSkin, can match the color and pattern of a home’s roof. They cost about $1,500 to $2,000 for an average home installation
The idea is to push for greater adoption of solar panels by creating an emotional appeal to the product, not just a rational appeal, said Senthil Balasubramanian, co-founder and CEO of Sistine Solar, which is housed in a cleantech incubator called Greentown Labs. Balasubramanian declined to disclose revenue.
Its closest competitor is the Tesla solar roof, which also can match roof shingles. Balasubramanian said Sistine’s product is the most efficient on the market, meaning that its skins do not create as big a drag on a panel’s ability to convert sunlight into electricity.
“There is a trade-off to put on the skins,” Balasubramanian acknowledged.
But they allow greater penetration, since the skins can overcome the hurdles thrown up by local ordinances. “In those places, the alternative is that you can’t have any solar at all,” he said.
The concept for SolarSkin was born in 2014 and fine-tuned with help from a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, Balasubramanian said. The company also has attracted private investors like Energy Foundry and Thin Line Capital.
After starting in the residential sector, the company is finding new opportunities in the commercial space. Airports, for example, can finance solar installations by selling ads on the panels, Balasubramanian said. Companies, meanwhile, can embed their logos and other branding messages.
“Now you can fund the solar not just out of your sustainability budget but also your marketing budget,” he said.
Related story about another solar entrepreneur: Chasing the Sun