Petaluma solar company cashes in federal energy grant

Petaluma’s r&d lab creates solar roofs that can be easily installed whenever a roof is installed or repaired.|

Petaluma’s r&d lab, as indicated by its name, started with research and development of several products to create more renewable and accessible sources of energy.

“We started the company with a bunch of products and business ideas but were not sure which would get traction first,” Co-owner Brian Atchley said via email. “The r&d lab was meant to be a company to experiment with companies.”

Created in 2019 by the husband-and-wife team of Brian and Amy Atchley, r&d lab has found its niche, creating solar roofs that can be easily installed whenever a roof is installed or repaired. And recently, the Petaluma-based company was named one of two winners of the American-Made Solar Prize, a National Renewable Energy Laboratory and U.S. Department of Energy contest meant to promote innovation in the United States.

Along with winning $500,000 from the DOE to advance their technology, the company also received an additional $75,000 in technical support vouchers redeemable at the energy department’s 17 national labs and other facilities in the American-Made Network.

The lab’s first prototype solar roofing system was made from some scrap metal in a garage about a year ago. Now, after dozens of iterations, it has passed all the certification testing and will be ready for sale next month.

Like most engineering innovations, the issue with this innovation was being able to communicate the idea to a layperson.

“We would show someone a picture of the product and they wouldn’t understand what we were selling,” explained Amy. “When we would go to an investor, we would have to first explain several problems in the industry which this product was solving and then show them how it was solving those problems.”

Brian is a solar and roofing veteran, having worked at Zep Solar, Solar City and Tesla in the past two decades. He said he has long had the desire to do more with his knowledge.

Amy too, wanted to leave the world a better place than she found it, and chose the route of teaching to do so. Eventually, she pivoted to run operations for the development of the r&d lab’s first products.

There are several products that could potentially benefit from the use of solar energy, so why solar roofs?

“The short answer is that we feel it’s the fastest way to grow the solar market in the U.S.,” Amy said. “The problem with residential solar is motivation. It’s just another item on the to-do list that can be put off. A roof however gets your attention at a different level.”

Five million building owners in the U.S. re-roof each year, and among those, just 400,000 install rooftop solar. The r&d lab aims to boost that number.

Led by Brian and Amy, the r&d team consists of four full time employees and 11 part time employees passionate about the cause. The roofs they’ve designed are specifically for solar energy absorption, with streamlined mounting hardware which simplifies installation.

“Our unique value proposition is that we offer integrated solar roofers a light-weight roof, designed for solar, saving time for install and material costs,” said Brian. “And in turn, they offer customers a beautiful, durable roof that pays for itself through solar energy offsets and is recyclable.”

The team hopes to address environmental issues, one roof at a time.

“In 5 years we want to have 5 manufacturing plants across the US and be roofing at least 200,000 roofs per year. This will translate to 1.21 GW added per year. We also want to figure out how to address over 1 million roofs per year,” said Brian. “What we're working on is important and we believe we can setup incentives for growth.”

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