Dow Chemical's Solar Shingles Could Revolutionize the Photovoltaics Industry

By Joseph Chang

Published on: January 11, 2010

Rooftop Revolution Dow

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

(Image by Dow Chemical)

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 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.

Direct Sales to Builders

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.

2010: The Year for a Surge in Energy Efficiency

By Nathan Rothman

Published on: January 6, 2010

In 2009, awareness about the positive impacts of energy efficiency was raised to new heights. From President Obama's vision of energy efficiency stimulating job growth to U.S. Energy Secretary Chu calling himself "an energy conservation nut," the promise of energy efficiency solving a host of 21st century challenges became widely known.

What is less known is that energy efficiency was a central component of every one of the climate bills debated in Congress in 2009. And for good reason. With buildings responsible for 40 percent of the nation's energy consumption, the opportunity for significant savings is real. In fact, the USGBC estimates that greater building efficiency can meet 85 percent of future U.S. demand for energy, and a national commitment to green building has the potential to generate 2.5 million American jobs.

The concept of energy efficiency stands apart from other cleantech and green building initiatives in a very important way: It's relatively cheap. If you think about it, the cleanest and cheapest kilowatt of energy is the one never used. So even if there is an upfront cost to put efficiency measures into place, the return is never-ending. That means within a few months or years, you're putting money back into your pocket. That's a form of green we can all agree on.

With the new-found awareness of the potential of energy efficiency, 2010 promises to be a year of action. There are three key factors that get people to take action: incentives, funding and solutions that are proven to work.

(Image by Robb Williamson, courtesy of NREL.)

Standards That Create Incentives

Incentives come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from local or federal legislation that mandates better efficiency, to building owners taking advantage of the marketing benefits that come with being LEED or Energy Star certified.

Whether or not a climate bill is passed in 2010, there are already 26 states and nearly a thousand U.S. cities that have environmental standards for new construction and retrofitting existing buildings.

LEED certification has also seen explosive growth in recent years. The 2009 Green Building Market and Impact Report found LEED registered green building activity has grown to a cumulative total of more than 7 billion square feet worldwide since the standard was launched in 2000 -- more than 40 percent growth in 2009. I believe these trends are here to stay.

Breaking Down Barriers to Funding

Funding is no longer the barrier it once was. Communities across America are applying for Department of Energy grants for use in a variety of commercial and residential efficiency programs. In addition, new creative financial programs are becoming available, such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bond programs enacted in more than a dozen states in the past year.

Combine these programs with tax credits and utility rebates, and the opportunities for building owners are greater than ever before. Because of the savings efficiency provides, I believe we'll continue to see new financing options in the years ahead that will accelerate the adoption of efficiency programs.

Advanced Building Systems Technology

What's most exciting to me, however, is how new technologies are elevating the possibilities when it comes to efficiency. In 2009, we saw more examples than ever of information technology being applied to operating the physical environment, such as buildings.

This convergence -- sometimes called operations technology -- is transforming the way buildings are managed, and it's leading to unprecedented improvements in energy performance. Another important benefit of using technology to manage building systems is the ability to "see" what's happening, and use that information for maintenance and to ensure savings persist over time.

I believe there will be an increase in the rate at which new technologies are introduced, and as these technologies are proven to work, acceptance will grow, spurring faster adoption by the industry -- and opening up new business opportunities.

We're already seeing this within the controls contracting industry where they're building new revenue streams by expanding their energy services offerings to existing clients, helping those clients achieve real returns on their capital investments.

Efficiency achieved by applying new technologies equals job growth, energy security and saving green. That's a winning combination that I believe will grow exponentially in 2010 and the decade that follows.

Nathan Rothman, B.E.P., CSDP, is the founder and CEO of Optimum Energy LLC.

Demand for Upgraded Energy Efficiency at Home is Weak

By Julie Schmit

Published on: January 5, 2010

The recession-driven drop in new home construction is forcing more companies to seek work upgrading the energy efficiency of U.S. homes.

But consumer demand remains weak because of the cost and the dearth of strong financial incentives, which President Obama is now pushing Congress to provide.

GREEN HOUSE: Our online environmental community

"The big companies are coming to this area. But it's been difficult to get consumers to dig into their pockets," says Larry Zarker, CEO of the Building Performance Institute trade association.

In December, President Obama declared insulation "sexy" and pressed Congress to provide incentives to homeowners to improve home energy efficiency. Supporters call the idea "cash for caulkers" because it's similar to the government's "cash for clunkers" rebates that sparked auto sales last summer.

Supporters say incentives, matched by homeowner dollars, would drive energy retrofits, and the U.S. would cut energy use while putting construction workers back to work.

A home retrofit can range from minimal (sealing leaky windows and holes) to the involved (adding insulation or solar water heaters, changing appliances or windows, or redesigning duct work).

Historically, about 150,000 U.S. homes have received energy upgrades annually, most via government programs for low-income Americans, estimates Kevin Pranis, research director for Change to Win, a labor union coalition. Some 100 million U.S. homes could use upgrades, Pranis says.

"We look at this as rescuing an industry," says Matt Golden, co-founder of Recurve, a San Francisco-based energy audit and retrofit firm. Recurve has been in the business five years, but other companies are stepping up home energy retrofit efforts, including:

  • Masco Home Services. A subsidiary of home improvement and building products supplier Masco, it recently opened offices in Michigan and New Hampshire to do $99 home energy audits and the follow-up work. Masco Home Services expects to expand the service to 20 cities within months, President Larry Laseter says.

  • Grupe. The central California home builder, at the peak of the region's housing boom in 2005, built 400 homes. In 2009, it built none. Last year, Grupe launched a home energy retrofit business, Green Home Solutions. "It could be a large market," Chief Financial Officer Mark Fischer says.

  • Owens Corning. The leading insulation maker estimates that 80 million U.S. homes are underinsulated. It recently launched new efficiency products, including a sealing system for home cracks and joints. CEO Michael Thaman says job-creation efforts by Congress should include money to cut home energy use. "It has the biggest payback," he says.

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