Dow’s Powerhouse Solar Shingle dream finally dies

The death of Dow's once "groundbreaking" solar shingle product is not unexpected.

Five years after Dow Chemical promised to change the way people thought of solar shingles, it sold the last of its manufacturing equipment to an unknown buyer.

The online auction house Hilco Global  announced the equipment, including plastic-injection molding machines, solar-cell welding systems, glass washers, sun simulators, laminators — among other equipment — had been sold. Neither the buyer or the financial terms of the sale were  disclosed.

Long before Tesla/SolarCity announced its new solar-roof products last month, Dow launched its PowerHouse Solar Shingles in 2009, designed to integrate directly into the roof. By 2011, the company’s “groundbreaking” product was struggling to survive. This summer, with the product no longer viable and a pending merger with DuPont looming, Dow decided to stop making the PowerHouse entirely.

On the lonely remnant of what was once a vibrant PowerHouse solar shingle website is now the following note:

Dow announced on June 28, 2016, that it will cease manufacturing POWERHOUSE modules. As part of the transition to cease POWERHOUSE operations, we will no longer be providing design services for new projects. Dow will continue to support warranties issued on existing POWERHOUSE Systems.

The timing of the final sale is ironic, given the hoopla surrounding Tesla’s solar-roofing products, which are expected to into mass production next summer. Roof-integrated solar has been a goal for at least the last seven years, and no one has been able to move the needle enough to make it the centerpiece of its business.

As Julian Spector at GTM Research wrote this summer when Dow originally announced it would no longer manufacture the PowerHouse shingles:

Once the conventional PV sites are tapped out — if that ever happens — the value of solar-generating windows, walls and roads will increase. Until then, BIPV frequently amounts to paying a premium for less of a return. That math has already killed a long line of companies.

Elon Musk is now betting Tesla/SolarCity’s future that he can buck the trend Dow’s PowerHouse solar shingles pioneered. As Dow’s solar shingles business gasps its last breath, the industry awaits to see if Musk’s intuition is correct.