Dow's solar shingles are poised to put the solar panel market out of business. The unobtrusive designs produce power more cheaply than traditional panels, are produced domestically, and require no specialized skills to install, other than standard roofing experience.  (Source: Beanieville Blog)

The new cells uses CIGS thin films, encased in plastic. The resulting design has lower efficiencies that traditional panels, but is cheaper to produce, lowering the cost per watt by 10 to 15 percent over traditional panels.  (Source: University of Strathclyde)
Product should shake up the power industry and open up new era for solar

Inventors and designers have long envisioned a roof or window that produced solar power affordably.  However, until now no company had mass produced such a device.  Instead, the consumer market was dominated by rooftop panels which require a fair amount of maintenance, are relatively fragile, and are rather expensive.

That's all about to change, however.  Dow Chemical Co., one of America's most successful chemical firms, is launching the first mass-produced consumer solar shingle next year and will be planning a wide-scale rollout by 2011.  The firm foresees a booming $5B USD market for the shingles.

The new shingles use a thin film of copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) to capture solar energy.  As a result, the cells which are encased in molded plastic are relatively flexible, unlike their photovoltaic cousins.  And while these elements (such as indium) are quite expensive in bulk, they're used extremely sparingly, keeping costs low.

The shingles one weakness is that they manage just over 10 percent efficiencies, less than traditional panels.  Despite this smaller generation capacity, they produce power at a 10 to 15 percent lower cost on a per watt basis due to production and installation cost savings.

Roofing contractors greeted the news with "an enthusiastic response" according to Dow, as the shingles require no additional special skills to install.  A roof of the shingles can be installed in about 10 hours, versus anywhere from 22 to 30 hours of specialized labor to install traditional panels.  These installation costs are an important issue as they comprise approximately half the cost of traditional panels.

It is unclear what wiring will be necessary to connect the shingles to household power, but Dow believes it won't be overly challenging.  In total, Dow's solution will become the biggest player in a burgeoning market of "Building Integrated Photovoltaic" (BIPV) systems.  While other BIPV solutions exist, many are only available to businesses, and the cost is typically 30 to 40 percent higher than Dow's system.

Dow's system is extremely flexible and can be intermixed with traditional asphalt shingles.

Jane Palmieri, managing director of Dow Solar Solutions states, "We're looking at this one product that could generate $5 billion in revenue by 2015 and $10 billion by 2020."

The new shingles will be produced domestically, with much of production coming from a 1,350-ton Husky Quadloc Tandem injection press newly installed in Midland, Michigan in 2008.

The first deployments of the shingles will be in new housing projects next year through partners such as Lennar Corp and Pulte Homes Inc.  These smaller projects will build up to a full rollout the following year.  The U.S. Department of Energy has granted Dow a small loan of $20M USD to help make that vision a reality and complete the commercialization of this promising product.

This will not be Dow's first foray into the solar market.  It has manufactured high-efficiency photovoltaic panel material for some time now, and also produces the heat-capturing liquid used in concentrated solar power systems.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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