Firms to distribute solar shingles

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Dow's interlocking solar shingles are designed to be used alongside asphalt shingles on a standard roofing underlayment. (Dow Chemical Co. photo)

ORLANDO, FLA. (March 22, 2:25 p.m. ET)  — Dow Chemical Co. has selected three roofing contractors in the Denver area to be the first authorized distributors for its Powerhouse solar shingles and soon will be adding more dealers as part of an extensive rollout planned for this year.

“We are going to be adding some authorized dealers in Texas relatively soon, and then a couple of weeks behind that, we will be adding a couple of dealers in northern California,” said Dan Pezolt, North American marketing director for Dow Solar Solutions, in an interview at the International Builders’ Show.

The Dow shingles first debuted in mid-October in Colorado, and Dow announced the addition of the three Colorado distributors Jan. 17. “We plan to continue to expand,” Pezolt said at IBS, held Feb. 8-11 in Orlando. “We anticipate being in about a dozen states by the end of 2012. We have a number of additional states on our radar screen.”

A full-scale commercial production plant for the solar shingles — under construction at Dow’s Midland, Mich., headquarters complex — is scheduled to begin operating in 2013.

“Our market expansion plans are very much linked with manufacturing increases planned for this year,” said Pezolt. “We will continue to grow in additional markets as manufacturing expands.”

Dow is not the only company taking aim at solar roofing.

CertainTeed Corp. is hoping to find better traction for its Apollo photovoltaic roofing system.

“At this point, we are just trying to roll it out across the country,” Barbara McDonough, CertainTeed marketing manager for solar roofing, said at IBS. “We are finding interest in the Northwest, Southwest, Northeast and mid-Atlantic,” she added, noting strong government purchasing incentives in those regions.

CertainTeed solar panels are lightweight and less than an inch thick, and McDonough claims they offer more watts per square foot than the Dow system. “They install and lock into place” like vinyl siding, she said.

But Dow — with the production plant under way and its shingles being installed on homes in Colorado — has the edge in the marketplace, at least for now. In addition, its solar shingle roofs are estimated to cost between $10,000 and $15,000, compared with an estimated $24,000 for a typical CertainTeed solar roof.

What’s more, Dow has been making its Powerhouse solar shingles at a Midland pilot plant since last fall. That’s when Dow Solar first rolled out the shingles through luxury home builder D.R. Horton Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas. Horton is making the shingles standard on homes that it’s building in the upscale Spring Mesa community in Arvada, Colo., outside of Denver.

“They started with 50 homes, and now they are planning to build out the rest of the Spring Mesa community and put Powerhouse shingles on all the homes,” Pezolt said.

Each home that Horton builds will have a 3-kilowatt array of the thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide photovoltaic shingles, designed to look like conventional roof shingles.

“It certainly helps to have successful introductions we can now point to and so people can see the aesthetics of the products compared to other solar products,” Pezolt said.

Two other pluses: Dow’s shingles have been certified as a building material and also eliminate the need for wiring on the roof.

The fact that the shingles are made in the U.S. is also proving to be an advantage, he said.

“One of the things we are finding is the positive reaction people have when they find that these shingles are being made in America,” Pezolt said. “We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of folks looking for products made in America. They are energized by the opportunity to buy domestic energy products, and to have products that put people back to work.”

Dow estimates that by 2015 its full-scale solar shingle plant will employ 1,275, create a $1 billion revenue stream for Dow and have the capacity to make enough shingles for 40,000-50,000 homes annually.

Right now, Dow plans to concentrate its selling efforts in states where energy costs are high, or where there are incentives to purchase energy-efficient products like solar shingles, or where both of those factors exist.

That was one reason why Colorado was chosen as the first market for the shingles. The Rocky Mountain state has high grid-supplied energy costs and an incentive program designed to encourage consumers to buy energy-saving products such as solar shingles.

“The time for payback right now is driven by solar incentives and energy prices within a state,” Pezolt said. “But generally, you are seeing payback within 10-15 years and that is well within the warranty period and that payback time is less than one-half of the projected product life” of the shingles.

But long range, Pezolt said Dow knows its shingles will have to compete in an “unsubsidized market” with other roofing products.

“Right now, there are a lot of incentives that help offset the upfront cost,” said Pezolt. “But if you look out four to five years from now, many of those will have run their course. The industry has to be ready to compete in an unsubsidized market. The industry, as a whole, has to continue to bring costs down.”

He said the Dow plant under construction in Midland will do just that.

“It will be highly automated,” Pezolt said. “The economies of scales from that plant will help us lower costs and help us tremendously.”

Despite the initial higher cost for solar shingles compared with asphalt shingles, homeowners will only need to use solar shingles on part of a roof, and their use will save consumers money in the long run, according to Pezolt.

“The Powerhouse solar shingles ... will typically offset 50 percent of the electricity usage” and it is not necessary to use them on the entire roof, Pezolt said. “I think it would be fair to assume you would only dedicate 20-40 percent of your roof [usually the south-facing side] for solar shingles,” he said.

The solar cells are integrated by Dow into a proprietary polymeric-based shingle through injection molding. The interlocking shingles are designed to be used alongside asphalt shingles on a standard roofing underlayment. They can be installed with standard roofing nails at the same time as asphalt shingles. That continues to be a positive aspect, based on early installations that have been done in Spring Mesa, said Pezolt.

“You can install the solar shingles in the same amount of time using the same tools,” he said. “They are putting [the roofing] up very quickly.”

The three-part solar roofing system package includes an array of shingles, an inverter and an energy-monitoring system. The shingles are arranged to complement the style and form of the home and roof line. The inverter then converts direct-current produced from the shingles into alternating current, which is then fed to the home’s appliances or back to the power grid.

Dow’s solar business received $20 million in funding in 2007 from the Department of Energy to develop new residential solar products.