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Although they may seem like conflicting technologies, cool roofs can be complimentary to solar photovoltaic panels. According to the DOE, a cool roof can keep the roof surface 50% cooler than a dark roof under the same conditions. Solar panels may perform more efficiently and for a longer lifespan under the cooler conditions provided by a cool roof. Panels by California solar photovoltaic manufacturers Solyndra have even been developed with curved surfaces to take advantage of light refracted off the cool roof.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Heat Island Group is conducting research on the effects of dirt and algae on the roof surface over time, and it is working to develop an accelerated aging process. This can significantly decrease the aged testing timeline, allowing roofing manufacturers to design and improve product formulas without waiting three years for the aged performance. The Heat Island Group is also working on a self-cleaning surface for roofing materials to reduce the effects of weathering on solar reflectance values. The scientists at United Environment and Energy LLC are developing a coating that can recognize temperature changes to either reflect or absorb solar energy depending on what would be more advantageous for the building. The coating is created using waste cooking oil from restaurants and can be adapted to different climates with preset temperature thresholds. A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has focused on a similar concept, designing a roof tile that changes colors according to temperature. The tiles are made of common polymers encapsulated by a clear plastic top layer and black back layer. These are just a few examples of new technologies that are pushing roofing materials to have the ability to maintain high-performance after weathering while decreasing both cooling and heating loads for a building.
Despite the benefits of cool roofing, it is still a ways off from being adopted as a standard building practice. In the U.S., it faces barriers from misconceptions, aesthetic design concerns and moisture issues caused by non-comprehensive installations. Yet, cool roofing is a simple design measure that can provide significant energy savings and environmental rewards. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Heat Island Group estimates that buildings with cool roofs use up to 40% less cooling energy than buildings with dark colored roofs. A designer specifying a rooftop now has several resources available to make informed and confident cool roof choices.
With increasingly rigorous roofing code and program standards, and promising emerging technologies on the horizon, cool roofs are quickly becoming one of the most effective ways to save energy and help mitigate global warming.
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