Solar Shingles State of the Union

While the idea of solar shingles had been around and used small applications, they really first burst onto the commercial market in 2011, it was estimated that they would sell for far less than standard solar panels. Profits were estimated to exceed $10 billion within a decade, and many people believed that the future of solar had arrived.

While those initial projections were proven incorrect, solar shingles stand ready to finally make a larger splash on the market, thanks to new innovations that will be hitting the market in 2018. Once more, a turning point in the solar world has been predicted, with experts surmising that thanks to advancements like Tesla’s Solar Roof, the entire clean energy market could change forever.

But to even attempt to predict the future of solar shingles, you first have to understand its history. Where did it come from? Where did it go wrong? Where has it gone right?

Birth of the Concept

While Dow announced the first major solar shingle to hit the market in 2009, solar shingles were a dream that took decades to realize. The initial patent for the technology that would give birth to solar shingles wasfiled on August 24, 1976.

The filing reads, “The invention relates to solar cell arrays, particularly those which are designed for use on roofs or buildings. It has been heretofore suggested that solar cell arrays be arranged with solar cell wafers in stepped arrangement over a rooftop or the like. It has also been suggested to cover a helmet or the like with a solar cell array for the collection of radiant energy. Further suggestions involve building blocks or the like in which solar cells are encapsulated.”

Solar shingles were developed to combat one of the most common objections homeowners have when it comes to solar panels.Many people find them to be ugly. Solar shingles were designed to lay flush against standard asphalt roof tiles in order to blend in with them so, to the naked eye, the solar cells would be invisible.

Failure of the Powerhouse

Dow Chemical announced the first major residential solar shingle in 2009, the Dow Powerhouse. At the time of announcement, Dow touted the powerhouse as the future of the solar industry, estimating profits of$5 billion by 2015 and $10 billion by 2020. They also believed, at the time, that solar shingles would sell at 10-15% less per Watt than traditional solar panels.

The announcement was met with much enthusiasm by the scientific community. TIME Magazine even declared the Dow Powerhouse one of the50 Best Inventions of 2009, based solely on a prototype.

When the product hit the market in 2011, it stumbled due to higher costs than anticipated, coupled with a lack of efficiency when compared to traditional panels. The solar shingles were selling from $4-$12 per Watt, while tried and true solar panels were only $3.50 (more on solar costs atPowerScout.com)

These issues proved to be insurmountable as, five years later,with only 1,000 homes having installed the product in 18 states,Dow discontinued the Powerhouse line. This announcement coincided with the company’s merger with DuPont, which saw25,000 jobs eliminated worldwide.

Around that same time, a new player arrived on the solar shingle scene in the form of Tesla.

The Tesla Solar Roof

When tech powerhouse Teslapurchased the national solar manufacturer, SolarCity for $2 billion in late 2016, it was clear that CEO Elon Musk had a vision for the solar industry. That came to light in 2017, with the announcement and rollout of theTesla Solar Roof, a series of advanced solar shingles which were designed to mimic the appearance of various styles of roof tiles.

Currently, the Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo, New York is going to Solar shingles in Partnership with Panasonic USA.

The Solar Roof is available in smooth and textured glass, French slate, and Tuscan designs. At this time, only the glass variations have been released in the United States. The Solar Roof stands to not only blend in seamlessly while providing utility savings. Tesla also touted its ability towithstand heavy weather conditions in a way that far exceeds traditional roof tiles.

However, the Tesla Solar Roof in partnership with Panasonic Solar is not without its downsides. This new product comes at a high cost. Some estimate that the Solar Roof is 70% more expensive than installing a traditional solar system on a sturdy roof, and only generates70% of the power that standard solar panels do.

Return of the Powerhouse

With Tesla set to dominate the solar shingle landscape in 2018 following the full rollout of the Solar Roof, Dow is stepping back into the game and attempting to revive the Powerhouse brand.

Powerhouse 3.0 was developed through a partnership seeingDow team up with RGS Energy. This new version of Dow’s original product will be made using standard silicon solar cells, rather than the more expensive CIGS technology of its predecessors. This shift in material will, according to Dow and RGS,improve efficiency while controlling costs.

The Future of Solar Shingles

The stage appears to be set for a battle in solar shingle supremacy between a resurgent Dow and Tesla. While Tesla’s name value and positive reputation will be difficult to overcome, Dow appears to be armed with a plan forged in the fires of their previous errors. It will be interesting to see what the landscape of the industry looks like through 2018 and into 2019.

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