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Dow to end solar shingle production

Join Date: 2019-01-03

Photo by Dow Chemical Co. Installation of Dow's solar shingles.

Just five years ago, Dow Chemical unveiled a line of roof shingles that also were 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 manufactured at Dow's headquarters in Midland, Michigan.

But now production is wrapping up with much less fanfare.

Dow has notified builders in writing that they have until 28 July to place orders for the Powerhouse Solar System 2.0, which was introduced last year to select US markets. The last shipments go out 10 August.

Dow is transitioning its Powerhouse platform to a licensing business model following its acquisition of Dow Corning, according to company spokeswoman Jamie Ellis.

“Dow will retain the technology expertise for the platform, and will leverage Dow Corning's experience and expertise in solar market applications, cost structure and market outlook to identify valuable global photovoltaic market opportunities for these technologies,” Ellis said in an email to the local newspaper The Bay City Times.

A majority of the positions in the Dow Solar business will be affected by the restructuring, she added. Dow Solar has about 130 workers in Midland and Milpitas, California.

Emails and a phone call to Ellis were not immediately returned.

The letter to builders went out 28 June, 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 $500m (€452m) of cost and growth synergies.

Dow also is in the midst of a $130bn (€117bn) mega-merger with DuPont of Wilmington, Delaware, US.

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 authorised 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 moulding. 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 $20m (€18m) from the Department of Energy in 2007 to develop new solar products. The company then invested $100m (€90.4m) to advance technology that harnesses the power of the sun.

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