No sooner had Dow Chemical Co. ended production of its Powerhouse solar roof shingles than Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk announced he was getting into the market.
Musk said “solar and batteries go together like peanut butter and jelly.”
A $750 million factory is under construction in Buffalo, N.Y., where Musk's pending acquisition, SolarCity Corp., will manufacture a product similar to the one Dow just dropped. The solar shingles are integrated into the roof — with no mounted, tilted panels — and serve as both the top of the building and a source of clean energy.
The exit of one industrial titan and the apparent arrival of a billionaire entrepreneur shows the commercial effort to harvest the power of the sun is continuing on a “natural progression,” according to Integrated Solar Technology LLC CEO Oliver Koehler.
Based in Port Chester, N.Y., and in the market for two years with solar shingles and tiles, Integrated Solar Technology does business as SunTegra. Koehler said the company is benefiting both from Dow's departure and Musk's vision for roof-integrated solar panels to generate enough electricity to store in a home battery that can power both a home and an electric car.
“The solar market has been growing 20 to 70 percent since 2003-2004,” Koehler said in a telephone interview. “We're now in a phase where we have consolidation and more differentiated products. The market is large enough that solar shingles and solar tiles can find their place and I think we'll see other more specialized products increasingly get into the market as it continues to grow.”
Some market watchers heard echoes of a rustbelt failure in Musk's announcement about roof-integrated solar shingles. However, Koehler thinks Midland, Mich.-based Dow's problems were linked to using copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) solar cells, as opposed to conventional crystalline silicon.
“The industry has interpreted Dow's exit from roof-integrated solar shingles as signifying a problem with solar shingles. But really their exit is due to a failed technology and product strategy,” Koehler said. “They focused on an immature thin-film technology that requires huge scale in order to be made cost effectively.”
Chris Fisher, product development leader of photovoltaics for CertainTeeed Corp., agreed. The Malvern, Pa.-based subsidiary of building materials maker Cie. de Saint-Gobain makes roof-integrated solar shingles and tiles called Apollo II.
“The primary difference between the Dow and CertainTeed products is that Apollo II uses industry standard components for the solar module, which allows Apollo II to shift with the market and take advantage of ongoing cost, efficiency, manufacturing and technology improvements driven by the broader industry,” Fisher said in an email.
Dow “put together an interesting product,” Koehler added, but at about $6 per watt, it cost around 50 percent more than competitors.
“They really priced themselves out of the market,” Koehler said. “Despite their best efforts, they were able to get a good amount of customers across the U.S. But they were never able to get close to the scale they needed to cost effectively produce the product.”