Dow is launching an injection molded solar shingle that it feels has the same potential to revolutionize housing as indoor plumbing did 100 years ago.
The POWERHOUSE Solar Shingle combines the performance and protection of a conventional asphalt roof with an integrated photovoltaic (PV) system that powers the home. A rolling launch to about 12 states is under way now.
“There is a lot of amazing technology in the POWERHOUSE product,” says Dow Solar Vice President Jane Palmieri. “But what we learned from the consumer is that they value the look of their homes because it is an expression of who they are. Homeowners want, expect and deserve a solar product that they can be proud to display.”
Dow is not releasing much information about the technology, even though the work was half funded by the federal government.
This much is known: The Dow Solar Shingles are CIGS-based PV cells overmolded with a proprietary Dow polymer formulation. Electrical circuitry is integrated into each shingle and the shingles are connected by wireless plug-style connectors. The project has been managed by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the Solar America Initiative (SAI).
CIGS refers to copper indium gallium (di)selenide, which is used as light absorber material for thin-film solar cells. Global Solar of Tucson, AZ announced that Dow is using its PowerFLEX Technology for the POWERHOUSE Solar Shingle. It has a 10.5% to 12.6% aperture efficiency, which Global Solar says is 50% more efficient than flexible a-Si solar cell.
A major challenge for Dow was development of a flexible barrier material that would hermetically seal and protect the solar cell. Typically, lifetimes of 20 to 30 years are sought for solar cells. Barrier film for PV cells are typically made from fluoropolymer, although other high-performance plastics are also used. Dow does not produce fluoropolymers, but said that it intended to partner with companies that could produce barrier materials. Dow said that a stainless steel substrate is used for the CIGS material. Use of steel as a substrate seems like an unusual approach for a plastics company.
Dow says that is partnering with the California Institute of Technology to develop next-generation PV materials with the goal of using “earth-abundant” materials.
Dow is using a 1,350-ton Husky Quadloc Tandem injection press to mold the cells in a small-scale manufacturing facility in Midland, MI. Dow has also begun construction of a new, large-scale facility that the company expects will create up to 1,275 jobs between now and 2015.
It would be interesting to know what, if any, Dow materials are used in the solar shingles. Dow is a major producer of building materials, led by polyurethane and polystyrene foam products. It would also be interesting to know more about the structure of the module and how the components come together in the press. I put in a request for information to Dow communications and brand official Kate Nigro, but received no response.