Dow pulls plug on its Powerhouse solar shingles

reinventing the rooof
Screen capture Dow Powerhouse

Did they suffer from Shimmer syndrome: "It's a floor wax! No, it's a dessert topping!”?

Dow has pulled the plug on its line of Powerhouse photovoltaic shingles. These were an interesting product; instead of putting solar panels on your roof, they actually were your roof.

There are a lot of reasons being thrown around; Dow is merging with DuPont and shedding jobs. They weren’t as efficient as conventional solar panels, and they cost more money per watt delivered. Scott Gibson of Green Building Advisor notes:

The shingles have a low profile, but the thin-film CIGS [copper indium gallium selenide] cells aren't as efficient at generating electricity as standard solar modules, and they're difficult to manufacture. In the end, investing in building-integrated solar "amounts to paying a premium for less of a return," as Greentech Media's Julian Spector put it.

dow powerhouse solar shingle display assembly photo

When I first saw the Powerhouse shingles at Greenbuild in 2010, I thought they were a bad idea for another reason altogether: Why would you tie an expensive solar panel system into a cheap disposable roof system? I wrote:

95% of roofs in America are asphalt shingles that are cheap, fossil fuel based, heat absorbing and don't last very long; then they are hard to get rid of. They have been called "a disposable roofing system that is difficult to dispose of.”… is it a good thing to integrate an expensive solar system into such a cheap roof? Or should it be independent, so that the roof can be replaced without affecting the solar collectors?

If you think about the philosophy of open building, “to maintain a separation between the different aspects of the building in order to be able to make repairs and do upgrades with a minimum of interference with other elements of the building”, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to combine the functions of roofing and power generation.

gildaSaturday Night Live/Screen capture Americans can watch here

I also thought that it suffered from what I call the Shimmer Syndrome, named after the product pitched on Saturday Night Live by Chevy Chase: "It's a floor wax! No, it's a dessert topping!”- combining two contradictory uses and doing neither particularly well.

Tags: Green Building | Solar Power


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