Installing solar panels on residential rooftops is not an easy task. It requires specialized skills in design, electronics, and construction that have made this type of work the domain of a select and relatively expensive group of craftspeople.

OneRoof Energy is looking to change that -- and just raised a $50 million round A and project fund for that task.

Instead of relying on the few thousand specialized solar installers, what if you opened up that pool of contractors to the tens of thousands of roofers (see chart) who are hungry for work in this economy and already have rooftop and construction skills?

This business model also easily positions a solar install for when the roof is built or rebuilt.

Investors Hanwha International (the same firm with a controlling interest in Hanwha SolarOne), U.S. Bank (a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp (NYSE:USB)), and Black Coral Capital provided the $50 million in financing to create this new residential leasing model for the roofing profession. Earlier investors in the firm include The Quercus Trust, Yellowtree Energy, and Spring Ventures. U.S. Bancorp has provided financing resources for several other residential PPA firms.
OneRoof Energy works with roofers to lease and install residential photovoltaic systems. The firm builds and maintains the systems for homeowners and works with builders and roofers to integrate the roofing and solar installation into one streamlined process. As with most solar PPAs, there are no upfront costs, and monthly bills are roughly equal to or lower than current electric bills. A warranty covers the roof and the solar installation.

Nikhil Garg of Black Coral Capital said in an email: “Falling solar panel prices have made solar accessible to many homeowners, but there’s an opportunity to grow the market by bringing down customer acquisition and installation costs. OneRoof is working with roofers, bringing them in as key partners to achieve this. If you’re going to have someone installing a new roof anyway, why not have a solar system put in at the same time?”

Mark Goldman of Armageddon Energy said, "Starting now, you'll see roofers and other trade professionals like plumbers and electricians become the heart of the solar installation workforce. Now that module prices are economic, the only way to reduce the cost of solar is to cut sales and installation overhead. These guys have the tools and the skills to get the job done quickly and efficiently from one end of the country to the other."

This new venture, if successful, would seem to give Hanwha SolarOne a new channel to the American residential market and provide a new addition to the small field of residential PPA firms, which include SolarCity, SunRun, Sungevity, and Clean Power Finance. Smaller players include Solar Universe, Ontility, SunPower, SolarCraft, Sun Edison, CentroSolar, and Suntech’s BriteLease program.

Chart courtesy of Armageddon Energy