KIRKWOOD, N.Y. — SunTegra, a startup manufacturer of solar roof tiles and shingles, recently announced that it’s moving manufacturing and administrative activities to the Binghamton area.
Previously located in Highland, New York, near Poughkeepsie, SunTegra was formerly known as Integrated Solar Technology. Founded in 2013 by current CEO Oliver Koehler, the company designs and manufactures solar shingles and tiles that replace traditional roofing materials, per the SunTegra website.
Koehler came into the venture with plenty of experience in the solar world, having held product-management positions with BP Solar, a manufacturer and installer of photovoltaic solar cells, and SunPower, a firm that specializes in solar-power generation and energy storage, he tells CNYBJ. “In that role I certainly saw the consumers wanted alternatives … but as the market matures, people want more choices,” he says of the inspiration for starting what was then known as Integrated Solar Technology. He says he renamed the business to SunTegra, originally the name of its product line, in 2017.
SunTegra “will use its new facility as a main office supporting administration, sales, R&D, and to ramp up production to meet increasing demand,” the firm said in a November 10 news release.
SunTegra’s new 10,000-square-foot facility is located at 27 Link Drive in the town of Kirkwood. Koehler says that about 6,000 square feet are dedicated to manufacturing with the balance split across office space and warehousing.
It has been a circuitous route for SunTegra to end up in the Southern Tier and with a focus on the Northeast. Koehler says that the company’s initial focus was on the California market and that manufacturing was done in China and then in Mexicali, Mexico.
“We’ve basically been jumping around solar tariffs pretty much from the start of the company,” Koehler says, adding that the Trump administration’s imposition of solar tariffs on Mexico in 2017 was the impetus for moving production first to the Poughkeepsie area, and then to the Binghamton region. Koehler says that the firm’s manufacturing today is split between the Southern Tier and a subcontractor’s facility in China. Production capacity at the Binghamton–area site is about 20,000 units per year, according to materials provided by Koehler.
SunTegra’s Kirkwood facility does not manufacture the solar laminate itself, but rather assembles the final product, ready to integrate with roofing materials. It’s there that SunTegra attaches what Koehler calls “our own special polymer composite framing systems” along with all the other requisite hardware. The company also provides materials for installation such as flashing, cables, and the solar inverter responsible for converting the solar-energy output into usable electricity.
“Binghamton offers access to great technical expertise, has talented labor and features a robust network of regional suppliers. We see Binghamton as a great platform from which to grow our business,” Koehler said in the company’s news release. He made the same points in an interview with CNYBJ and added that the company was able to find “the best facility for a reasonable price” in Binghamton rather than in the Mid-Hudson region.
Koehler and SunTegra cite the 2017 76West Clean Energy Competition as the venue where they first learned of the benefits of doing business in the Southern Tier. The competition is run by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, to promote innovative clean-energy companies in the Southern Tier. SunTegra finished second that year and was awarded $500,000.
The company’s ties to the Binghamton area also began in 2017 as SunTegra joined the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, located at 120 Hawley St. in Binghamton.
“Bringing innovative companies to the Binghamton area is what the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator is all about. SunTegra’s patented solar roofing products offer consumers an alternative to bulky solar panels, compete head-to-head with Tesla’s solar roof products, and are the type of technology that will help clean energy to go mainstream,” Michael Jagielski, director of clean energy programs at the incubator, said in the release.
Jagielski’s invocation of Tesla likely stems from the high visibility of that company’s solar-roofing products, which have yet to be widely released and while praised for their design have been criticized by customers and tech media for production issues and high costs.
Koehler says that SunTegra products were designed to offer similar aesthetic benefits and a more practical installation process at a lower cost. “Our product is kind of a middle ground between standard rack-mounted solar and the high-end solution that Tesla is trying to push,” he says.
SunTegra moved into the new Kirkwood facility on Aug. 1, and Koehler says that recent pandemic-related macroeconomic conditions have cut both ways for the company. “On one hand, supply chain costs have gone up … but on the other hand we’re getting lots of leads, lots of interest from customers and increasing sales too,” he says.
Building upon that potential for growth, SunTegra plans to release a second-generation product — which Koehler says is due in 2022 or early 2023. The company plans to at least double the number of employees in Binghamton by the end of 2022, from five to 10 or more. Koehler adds that the biggest obstacle to the company’s growth going forward is “expanding our dealer network,” referring to the roofers and builders to which SunTegra primarily sells. The firm also sells directly to homeowners on a limited basis.
SunTegra is also currently competing in the U.S. Department of Energy’s American-Made Solar Prize competition. It’s a $3 million prize competition “designed to energize U.S. solar manufacturing through a series of contests and the development of a diverse and powerful support network that leverages national laboratories, energy incubators, and other resources across the country,” per a description on the contest’s website. Koehler tells CNYBJ that the company won $50,000 as part of round four of the American-Made Solar Prize competition and has made a submission for round five. He says if it wins, SunTegra will be collaborating with the Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems Innovations at Syracuse University.