The State of Solar Shingles

When Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the birth of the Tesla Solar Roof last year, it was greeted with enthusiasm by the entire solar market. A photovoltaic solar system in the form of roof tiles, invisible to the naked eye? The solar world marveled at the ingenuity of Tesla, once more.

But the concept of solar shingles is not a new one. In fact, the technology to create such a product has been public knowledge since 2009 and solar shingles have been gracing the roofs of users since 2011.

As we move into 2018, when Tesla’s Solar Roof will see its full rollout, it’s important to remember where this technology came from, so that we can better predict where it is going.

The History of Solar Singles

DOW Chemical

The solar shingle concept was created by DOW Chemical Company, who first unveiled it in 2009. The company rolled out its Powerhouse Solar Shingle in 2011, and predicted at the time of announcement that it could see up to $10 billion in revenue by 2020.

The shingles were designed to blend in with a typical asphalt roof. They were heavily touted, due to their being an aesthetically pleasing alternative to traditional solar panels. Another added benefit of the shingles were the ease in which they could be installed, as there was no need for locating rafters and anchor points to bolt into, like with solar panels.

Using Copper Indium Gallium Slenide solar cells, the shingles worked the same as most standard panels, pulling in the rays of the sun and converting it to electricity, before transferring it to an inverter box, from which it enters the home.

In 2009, when TIME Magazine declared DOW’s solar shingle one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2009, it was estimated that the solar shingle would sell for 10% to 15% less than traditional solar panels.

Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case, as solar shingles ranged in price from $4 to $12 per-Watt, while traditional solar panels in 2015 were only $3.50 per-Watt (learn more about Solar Costs at PowerScout). Federal, state and local incentives helped to decrease the price point, sometimes by almost half, but the product was failing to catch on as predicted. Before it’s downfall, Powerhouse had only been installed on 1,000 homes.

DOW discontinued the Powerhouse line in mid-2016, announcing the news on the same day the company cut 2,500 jobs globally.

Enter Tesla

Tesla threw their hat into the clean energy game in 2016 with its $2 billion acquisition of Solar City. Following the termination of DOW’s Powerhouse shingles, many companies attempted to take over the industry. CertainTeed and Atlantis Energy Systems tried to compete, but Tesla has become the major name in the solar shingle game.

Once Tesla announced the Solar Roof to the masses they seemed to solidify their hold on the industry. In 2017, the first two variations of the Solar Roof were released in the form of textured and smooth glass.

The Future of Solar Shingles

The Tesla Solar Roof

In 2018 we will see a full roll out off the Tesla Solar Roof, with Tuscan and French Slate designs on their way to American homes this year. While the performance of this new product remains to be seen, there are certainly a large number of pros and cons associated with it.

For starters, the Tesla Solar Roof touts an impressive layer of protection as compared to the average roof. Tesla has released a video test, which shows a Solar Roof panel pelted with a 2-inch ball of hail traveling at 100 mph. The Solar Roof withstands the impact perfectly while traditional roof tiles shatter like glass. Coupled with a lifetime warranty, it seems like a smart investment at face value. Traditional solar panels, however are equally durable, so this is not a viable advantage that one product seems to have over the other.

The main issue plaguing the future of the Solar Roof seems to be its pricing. Much like DOW before them, Tesla may suffer from a market unwilling to shell out big bucks for their product when traditional solar panels cost so much less. Tesla’s Solar Roof is estimated at being 70% more expensive than installing solar panels on a home with a sturdy roof and 35% more costly than installing a solar panel system and having your roof fully replaced.

Another potential roadblock for the technology powerhouse is the energy output of their costly system. While the Solar Roof does produce enough power to save you money on your utility bills, it only produces 70% of the power generated by a traditional solar power system.

To top it off, competition is looming as DOW seeks to reclaim its lost throne.

The Return of DOW

Following an agreement between RGS Energy and DOW, the solar shingle market could start to see competition in the form of Powerhouse 3.0. Backed by the commercial prowess of RGS, the original solar shingle system could return with a bang and challenge Tesla’s dominance over the industry.

The major differentiating factor between Powerhouse 3.0 and its previous incarnations is an adoption of silicon solar cells, which reduces the cost of production, thus eliminating the biggest opponent of DOW’s past success, pricing.

The 2018 Battleground

2018 proves to be a fascinating year for the solar shingle industry. The success of the Solar Roof is far from assured and it will be interesting to watch its successes or failures as the full rollout concludes. What’s more, are we fixing to see a knock-down drag out battle between Tesla and DOW? Could DOW’s new, less expensive Powerhouse shingles reclaim its lost industry?

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