Dow Chemical's solar shingles could revolutionize the photovoltaics industry

Rooftop revolution

11 January 2010 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Dow Chemical has big ambitions for its innovative new solar shingles, aiming for $5bn in annual sales by 2015

WHILE THE use of solar panels in homes is popular in Germany and Spain, it has yet to catch on in the US. But that could change shortly, as US-based Dow Chemical has developed a new easy-to-install solar shingle that could change the game in the housing market.

 Dow Chemical
Dow Chemical sees sales potential for its new solar shingles of around $5bn (€3.5bn) by 2015 and $10bn-11bn by 2020.

"We're opening up a brand new market that does not exist today. Solar panels have many restrictions and are just not affordable to be used in any meaningful way, but we believe our product will change that paradigm," said Jane Palmieri, managing director of Dow Solar Solutions (DSS), in an interview with ICIS back in October 2009. "This is a transformational platform at Dow that can really be a needle-mover."

Dow has introduced its line of DOW POWERHOUSE solar shingles - photovoltaic (PV) panels that can be installed on rooftops with standard asphalt shingles. Technology from DSS integrates low-cost, thin-film CIGS (copper indium gallium deselenide) photovoltaic cells into roofing shingles.

In 2007, Dow received $20m in funding from the US Department of Energy (DoE) to develop building-integrated solar arrays for the residential and commercial markets.

Dow believes its solar shingle system will have a cost advantage, costing on average 10% less than applied solar panels - those that are bolted onto rooftops - and 40% less than similar building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) systems, Palmieri said.

BIPV systems, while in existence today, are "very boutique and very niche," as well as expensive. Also, applied systems have major aesthetic limitations, she added.

The cost to the average US homeowning consumer would be around $27,000 for the DOW POWERHOUSE system, versus around $30,000 to upwards of $45,000 for other existing systems, excluding federal, state and local subsidies, Palmieri said.

In the state of Arizona, which has big subsidies for solar panels, the after-tax cost to consumers for the Dow system would be around $7,400, versus $9,300-18,000, she added.

"It will depend state to state, but this reduces the overall cost impact to the consumer in a considerable way," said Palmieri. "We eliminate the need for a solar installer or electrician, since our product is installed just like a conventional shingle - by roofers."

The shingles will be interlinked and the power sent either to the homeowner's converter box to supply power directly to the home or to the electric grid, where homeowners could earn credits.

The use of Dow's solar shingles in a typical home would offset 40-80% of power usage, or 2-4kW, according to Palmieri.

Dow will first sell its solar shingle systems direct to major US homebuilders such as Hovnanian, Pulte and Lennar. "We'll sell directly to the builders, initially, as we're interested in proving that this product can drive solar adoption rates for the masses," Palmieri said. "Then we can envision other distributors that would allow us to penetrate the re-roof and smaller custom homebuilders."

Dow's solar shingle systems are expected to be available in limited quantities by mid-2010 and projected to be more widely available in 2011.

The photovoltaic raw materials for the market test will come from US-based Global Solar, Dow's partner in the Department of Energy (DoE's) Solar America Initiative (SAI) project, according to Dow.

Dow Solar Solutions was started as a business platform in 2007 with US DoE funding and became a business unit of Dow in 2008. The solar shingle product will be the first for the unit.

In November 2009, Dow announced a multiyear research collaboration with the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) aimed at developing the next generation of ultralow-cost, high-efficiency PV materials. Dow expects this to further reduce the cost of its solar shingles.

Read Doris de Guzman's Green Chemicals blog

By: Joseph Chang
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