UPDATED: Just five years ago, Dow Chemical Co. unveiled a line of roof shingles that doubled as solar collection panels, calling the technology revolutionary.
The Powerhouse Solar System could be quickly and simply installed by roofing contractors as they put on a conventional roof, Dow said. Homeowners could protect their houses while they lowered their energy bills without ugly solar panels popping up from their rooftops.
Innovation awards followed for the injection molded shingles, which were initially manufactured at Dow's headquarters in Midland, Mich.
But now production is wrapping up with much less fanfare.
Dow has notified builders in writing that they have until July 28 to place orders for the Powerhouse Solar System 2.0, which was introduced last year to select U.S. markets. The last shipments go out Aug. 10.
Dow's recent acquisition of Dow Corning prompted a reevaluation of the long-term competitiveness of the Powerhouse platform, a Dow spokeswoman explained in a July 6 email to Plastics News. As a result, Dow is transitioning the platform to a licensing business model, “which allows for broader participation in that market,” she added. The plan is for Dow to retain the technology expertise for the platform while leveraging Dow Corning's experience in cost structure and solar market applications to identify global photovoltaic (PV) opportunities.
“Dow will continue to develop materials and technologies for solar applications, such as concentrated solar power, heat management and encapsulant films,” the spokeswoman said in an email. “As an example, just last week Dow's elastomers business announced the availability of its photovoltaic grades of Engage polyolefin to the PV module encapsulation film industry.”
Dow will stop manufacturing PV solar modules in Midland and Milpitas, Calif. Because of the restructuring, the jobs of about 130 people who work at the two sites are at stake and “most roles will be impacted,” the spokeswoman said.
The letter to builders went out June 28, which is the same day Dow announced that it was cutting 2,500 jobs globally over the next two years as part of the Dow Corning integration. The restructuring is expected to create $500 million of cost and growth synergies.
Dow also is in the midst of a $130 billion mega-merger with DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del.
In the green building industry, Dow's plan to end production of solar roofing shingles reflects the challenges of incorporating solar modules into construction materials. The systems tend to be less efficient than conventional rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems, according to Julian Spector of Greentech Media.
“These systems tend to replicate the purpose of a rooftop solar installation — but with less efficiency, which makes it hard to sell in the long run,” Spector said in his technology report.
Dow introduced the second-generation of the Powerhouse system in 2015, saying the company had improved power density along with appearance and installation. Builders praised the product, including one in Rhode Island who signed a five-year contract with Dow to feature the solar shingles on some of the houses he is constructing for a 200-home subdivision.
In the letter to builders, Craig Brown, global business director for Dow Solar products and services, offers some reassurance.
“We will work with you to determine the path forward to meet your product needs during this period,” Brown wrote.
It was only four years ago that Dow had selected three roofing contractors in Denver to be the first authorized distributors for its Powerhouse solar shingles. Full-scale commercial production began in 2013 with solar cells integrated by Dow into a proprietary polymeric-based shingle through injection molding. The solar system consists of three parts: an array of shingles; an inverter that converts direct-current from the shingles to an alternating current to power the house or return power to the grid; and an energy-monitoring system.
Dow had received $20 million from the Department of Energy in 2007 to develop new solar products. The company then invested $100 million to advance technology that harnesses the power of the sun.