Dow Chemical Co. plans to start commercial production of its Powerhouse solar roof shingles this year, even before it starts operating its new plant in Midland, Mich. And it has high hopes that the shingles will not just succeed, but that they will become a mass-market product.
Right now, solar is very new, said Dan Pezolt, North American portfolio director for Dow Solar Solutions in an interview at the International Builders Show in Orlando in January.
But we think this product is going to change consumer mindsets and help overcome any concerns consumers have about the use of solar shingles. It will become a product for the masses and we intend to make that happen in the next five years.
Dow's thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide solar cells currently are manufactured on a flexible substrate by Global Solar Energy Inc. in Tucson. The cell is then integrated by Dow into a proprietary polymeric-based shingle using injection molding.
Right now, Dow is making the shingles in limited quantities at its solar market development plant, in Midland, which is being retooled to support commercialization. Dow has completed six pilot projects in various U.S. markets with new-construction builders and residential re-roofing contractors, said Pezolt. A number of additional projects will be completed in the coming weeks, he said.
We are on a very steep production introduction curve, with the first 100 workers already hired for the new plant, he said. Dow will announce later this year when that plant will start up.
We will begin production soon to supply initial launch demand out of our pilot facility, said Pezolt. [But] product amounts will be very limited, However, by 2014, Dow expects the production of solar shingles to bring 1,200 jobs to the Midland region.
Dow believes that its focus on making the shingles easy to install will help drive sales as much as the expected energy savings.
The biggest thing we've learned since the product was unveiled 15 months ago is that it is delivering on the aesthetics and the ease of installation, he said. You can take untrained roofing contractors, put them through training, turn them loose and they can handle it seamlessly with the existing roof.
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 asphalt shingles are installed.
It integrates seamlessly without destroying the aesthetics, Pezolt said. We have taken the complexity out of the solar process at the consumer level.
Despite an initial higher cost for solar shingles when compared to 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, he contended.
The Powerhouse solar shingles will definitely be more expensive than asphalt shingles, but their use will typically offset 50 percent of the electricity usage, he said.
In addition, Consumers are only going to want to target the optimal part [south-facing side] of the roof, for solar shingles, he pointed out. I think it would be fair to assume you would only dedicate 20-40 percent of your roof to these.
Dow received Underwriters Laboratories certification for its shingles in November.
We are really launching our business for residential applications, not the commercial market, because of what Pezolt called an unmet need for easy installation and aesthetics.
Because solar shingles are so new, consumers will need to be educated about their value.
But solar is not overly complex, he said. It is more affordable then ever.
Dow projects annual capacity at the Midland plant to be 220 megawatts of solar shingles by 2015. Current capacity at Global Solar Energy is 75 megawatts.
Dow's solar business received $20 million in funding in 2007 from the Department of Energy to develop new residential solar products.