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Compared to traditional photovoltaic (PV) panels that have been around for decades, solar shingles are relatively new. First commercially available in 2005, solar shingles appealed to homeowners who preferred a less distracting and lower profile look for their solar systems. However, solar shingles never took off in the solar market for several reasons. Now, Dow Chemical Co. hopes to popularize solar shingles with a new product that promises to be the best solar shingle on the market. The question is, has their solar shingle evolved enough to make it competitive with traditional PV panels?

There have been several types of solar shingles on the market since their debut. Some are simply regular solar panels sized to look like shingles while others utilize an amorphous-silicon thin film to give it a more integrated look. The biggest problem with solar shingles in the past is their efficiency. Typical solar shingles only operate at 6% – 10% efficiency while traditional PV panels range from 14% to 19%. This makes a big difference in the overall solar system’s production. To date, solar shingle systems proved to be more expensive to install than traditional PV panels due to framing, complicated wiring, and the greater area required.

Dow is hoping to change the reputation of solar shingles with its Powerhouse Solar Shingles. With the construction of its new large scale manufacturing facility in Michigan expected to be completed this year, Dow plans to slowly introduce this product over 18 months in U.S. markets where demand is anticipated to be the strongest. The shingle, created by using thin film cells of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS), is being called a game-changer for solar shingles due to its increased efficiency and ease of installation.

There are three basic pros and cons of the Powerhouse Solar Shingle:


    1. Efficiency
    Though Dow hasn’t published specific information regarding the solar shingle’s efficiency yet, it claims their Powerhouse Solar Shingles have an over 10% efficiency because of its CIGS technology. This makes it clearly more efficient than other solar shingles on the market today.

    2. Aesthetic Appeal
    As a Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV), solar shingles blend more seamlessly into traditional roofing materials and help give a sophisticated look to a home. Many people prefer the look of solar shingles to large PV panels.

    3. Simple Installation
    Dow’s residential solar shingles are designed to be attached to the roof like any other shingle by a roofing contractor. Unlike other solar shingles that must be wired together before being installed on a roof, these solar shingles eliminate on-roof wiring completely by plugging into each other to form a connected array, making installation faster.


    1. Production
    Dow’s product may be more efficient than other solar shingles, but it’s still eclipsed by the production from traditional PV panels. To make up for the lack of efficiency, a homeowner would need more space for solar shingles to get the same amount of power as that from a traditional system. If available roof space is limited then the homeowner would need to settle for a smaller system.

    2. Cost
    As of last summer, Dow claimed their product would cost 10% to 15% less per watt than traditional PV panels. Since that time, the cost of traditional PV panels has significantly dropped, making it likely that the price of Powerhouse Solar Shingles is equivalent to that of traditional solar panels.

    3. Electrician Required
    An advantage of the Powerhouse Solar Shingle is its ability to be installed by a roofing contractor, however, in certain states, a licensed electrician may be required to handle and or supervise the installation solar panels, thereby increasing the installation cost.

Solar shingles should not be completely ruled out as an energy saving option. Solar shingles may be a good option for new construction where the roof is facing directly south ensuring that the solar shingles receive the most sunlight for energy conversion and to reach their highest efficiency. The best investment option for homeowners looking to install solar now is to go with traditional PV panels.

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