A single solar system that will collect both thermal and electrical energy utilizing the same valuable and generally scarce south-facing roof.

CoolPV Hybrid Solar System

Freeman Ford | FAFCO Inc.


Please tell us a bit about FAFCO and its role in the solar energy industry?

FAFCO pioneered the modern-day solar thermal industry in the late nineteen sixties. After one hundred years of making solar thermal collectors from copper, FAFCO perfected the use of polymer solar collector manufacturing. Today FAFCO has 200,000 solar pool heating customers, with the electrical equivalent of the power from these systems totaling five nuclear power plants or about five Gigawatts. With twenty issued patents, FAFCO has and continues to innovate as befits its Silicon Valley heritage.


What are some of the latest innovations in the solar thermal industry that consumers need to beware of in 2017?

Consumers have embraced solar enthusiastically in the U.S. Their solar electric systems generate some or most of the power they use. The excess is sold to their local utility. There are two major innovations that benefit U.S. solar consumers in 2017. One is storage. Often we don’t use our electrical power when the solar energy is available. Storage means we can save say half or more of the energy generated each day for use in the evening when the sun no longer shines. Storage also can provide backup power if the utility is unable to provide it. The cost of storage is falling rapidly, just as happened with the cost of solar electric over the past decade.

A second innovation is the availability of a single solar system that will collect both thermal and electrical energy utilizing the same valuable and generally scarce south-facing roof. Well over one hundred million dollars has been spent over the last couple of decades but failed to commercialize successfully a so-called PV-T system. FAFCO succeeded with what they have trademarked as CoolPV.

The system is made in Chico, CA using solar electric modules from SolarWorld in Portland. This means the oldest U.S. thermal and oldest U.S. electric manufacturers have partnered to provide a unique system which can provide electricity while at the same time it heats a pool, pre heats water for food processing, laundries, bottle washing, pharmaceutical and many other applications. Both FAFCO and SolarWorld have existed longer than the period of their guarantees.


What have been some of the key challenges facing the solar industry and how has your company overcome them?

In the nineteen eighties the solar thermal industry went from $800,000,000 to just $20,000,000 when President Reagan abruptly cancelled the tax credit. Starting in about 2005 the US industry was again growing towards a billion dollar per year market when natural gas became so inexpensive, solar thermal again was dramatically reduced.

FAFCO has survived for two reasons: solar pool heating is the lowest cost and most efficient use for solar energy known. And secondly, FAFCO has anticipated quite dramatic market and energy price changes in sufficient time to add value to our customers despite political, energy and other challenges.

Are there any do’s and don’ts that solar energy users need to consider before investing in rooftop solar?

The most important lesson for consumers is to beware. Consumers have to beware and take the time to ensure that their dealer has been in existence for a long enough time period, so if their system ever needs service, the dealer will still be around to assist them.  They also need to make sure that the equipment being installed on their roof is guaranteed in performance and longevity by a manufacturer who has been in existence longer than its warranty. In many cases, owning your solar system is more financially beneficial than leasing, especially if you pay cash and secure low interest debt financing. Another thing for customers to consider is making sure that their home or business is energy efficient prior to installing a solar system as this will allow them to “reduce before they produce.” By reducing any energy waste or unnecessary consumption, you can reduce the size of the system needed, potentially saving thousands of dollars in up-front costs. Finally, it may be easier to correct warranty issues should they occur if consumers install a solar system that’s made in the U.S. For example, very cheap Chinese products can be installed in the U.S., but many Chinese manufacturers’ financial future may be in some doubt.


What are some of the latest statistics and trends in solar and PV solutions that are impacting the marketplace?

  • The cost of solar is rapidly approaching grid parity. Distributed solar with storage is likely to compete favorably with centralized power from your local utility.

  • Rooftop Solar continues to grow. In 2014, residential installations broke the 1,000 MW mark, hitting 1,200 MW of rooftop solar systems. It's enjoyed greater than 50% annual growth for the past three years, and is ramping up faster than either utility-scale or commercial solar energy.

  • In 2015, renewable energy set new records for investment and new capacity added. Investments reached nearly $286 billion, more than six times more than in 2004, and, for the first time, more than half of all added power generation capacity came from renewables.

  • Public market investment in renewable energy totaled $12.8 billion in 2015.


What are the benefits of rooftop solar solutions like CoolPV?

We believe CoolPV is the world's first commercially viable product that combines solar electric and thermal together to improve electrical output for powering homes, and, energy output for heating pools.  The unique design delivers this high-performance energy all while using the exact same roof space, and, all while driving enhanced efficiencies and tremendous energy cost savings to customers. 

In addition, CoolPV benefits consumers in several ways. It produces about four times the total thermal and electrical power that a single electric panel can produce. By keeping the solar electric panel cool the power output is increased. Solar electric panels don’t like to get hot! This means the consumer gets much more power for the same cost of sale and installation using the same scarce roof space.



How do you think the new political climate will influence the solar industry in the USA?

Likely not too much. Solar is extremely popular with virtually every American regardless of political view. If you visit the SEIA web-site you can see that solar employs hundreds of thousands of voters and is used by far more. In effect, I believe the solar train has left the station, so it will continue to be well supported. In addition, we are far behind China, Germany and so the new U.S. administration is expected to continue to help drive innovations in solar. Furthermore, one expert affirms that President Trump will embrace solar because it is cheaper and continues to be a jobs engine.  So this is promising news for the solar industry. In fact, most would agree that solar should receive at least the same support as is received by the fossil fuel industry.


What are your top 2017 predictions that we can expect to see in the solar and PV marketplace this year?

  • More “big brand” corporations may increase their spend on solar and renewable solutions in 2017. This is anticipated since Google just announced that it will be almost 100% run on renewable energy this year.  With leading brands like Google recognizing the benefits of cost savings, green solutions, more Fortune 500 companies could get on this bandwagon as well.

  • Key nations around the globe will continue to be the driving force of solar power innovation this year. China and Germany are already major forces in the solar industry with their efforts causing them to rise above the U.S. Also recent studies show that Latin America is starting to embrace Solar PV, with Mexico and Brazil being the two most promising growth regions in Latin America.  Moreover, at FAFCO we continue to sell our solutions to a variety of partners around the globe showing a strong demand for solar solutions abroad.

  • Innovations in storage will continue to be a top priority this year. Storage means we can save about half or more of the energy generated each day for use in the evening when the sun no longer shines. Storage also can provide backup power if the utility is unable to provide it. However, while storage solutions have historically been very expensive, the cost of these solutions will continue to rapidly fall, just as what happened with the cost of solar electric over the past decade.

  • Investments in solar energy will continue to be on the rise as investors want to get on the ground floor of meaningful deals that support a green environment.  In fact, public market investment in renewable energy totaled $12.8 billion in 2015, and global investment in renewables was $285.9 billion in 2015, up 5%, according to the latest stats. Given this financial support in our sector, FAFCO will be launching its own equity campaign raise by early spring inviting investors to support our innovations.

  • We can expect on-going consolidation in the PV manufacturing supply chain.  Prices have dropped to the point that many PV manufacturers are not earning a reasonable return on the investments or margin on their products.  This has gone on for a long time and cannot last forever.  As the manufacturing industry consolidates over the next several years, we may even see prices rebound a bit.



About Freeman Ford
Freeman founded FAFCO in 1969 pioneering the modern US solar thermal industry. He was a founder of and served as Chairman and treasurer of SEIA and also served for twenty-eight years as an outside director of HB Fuller, a Fortune 500 multinational adhesive manufacturer. Freeman graduated from Dartmouth, was a naval aviator in Viet Nam, continues for fly as a commercially rated pilot and has a Master’s degree from Stanford Business School.

FAFCO is the oldest and largest US solar thermal manufacturer with 200,000 solar pool heating customers whose systems collect the instantaneous electrical equivalent of five Gigawatts of electrical power and are served through FAFCO’s dealer-direct channel.



The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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