Thin Film Solar: Coming To A Roof Near You

This seems to be the week for solar roof tiles. Both DOW chemicals and SRS energy have recently unveiled what they claim to be easily installable, durable and lightweight solar roofing shingles. In SRS' case, they are pretty sexy looking as well.

On the other hand, slapping some solar on a sprawling Disney-esque McMansion (see photo left) makes as much sense as Schwarzenegger's hydrogen Hummer. But I'm not going to slam a good product for having cheesy marketing.

Both shingles rely on a thin-film solar system that is lighter and more flexible than the rigid glass and silicone sheets that are more common. What the systems loose in terms of efficiency (10% efficieny for the DOW vs. 25%+ for crystaline PV) you gain in terms of ease of installment and the ability to integrate the solar directly into the roof and cover a larger surface. DOW is also trumpeting the fact that these shingles can be installed by any professional roofer: "The solar shingle can be handled like any other shingle – it can be palletized, dropped from a roof, walked on."

While SRS's curving roof tiles is for a more niche market, DOW's tiles target the 90% of us homes that already use asphalt shingles. They are claiming that the tiles can offset between 40% and 80% of a home's electricity use. SRS casestudies (.pdf) put their installations so far at closer to 25%. The average US household uses about 10,000kWh/year. Which, by the way, is about double what the average household uses in Europe. (This might point to some easier ways to offset our energy consumption, but I digress.)

I see a competition between greenroofs and dark solar shingles looming on the horizon...


8 Responses to "Thin Film Solar: Coming To A Roof Near You"

ECD Fan said... 8 October 2009 at 23:33

Well, you are the latest victim of the massive marketing fraud perpetrated by SRS Energy. Their solar tiles are not easily installable (per Watt), are not durable (PV performance degrades over 1% a year, in likely violation of their warranty), and their atrocious blue color is definitely not sexy (although it appears so in the digitally altered image you have here in your post).

SRS's tiles effective efficiency is less than 5% (after accounting for the suboptimal tilt due to the tile curvature). For comparison, Dow's effective efficiency will probably be about 8%, not the 10% you claim (the cells are supplied by Global Solar, and their glass panels are just 8% efficient right now, with further losses when assembled as shingles).

The so-called SRS Energy case study is actually the CEO's ice parlor (that's right - that's his OTHER business). He had the arrogance to destroy a perfectly fine grey-shingle roof and replace it with the the "solar tiles" just so he can lure unsuspecting customers to part with their money. There are numerous lies about the performance of the tiles in that case-study writeup.

Cheesy marketing? Try fraudulent marketing at the US taxpayer expense! Details (complete with the fake pictures and false performance claims) here:

Alex Aylett said... 13 October 2009 at 17:20

I have to admit that the curved tiles seemed more like a novelty product than anything else. I appreciate your comments though.

I'm not in a position to verify the efficiency for either the DOW or SRS tiles. (Alhtough the DOW stats come from the New York Times, which I consider to be a reliable source.) But the main lesson is that before buying into any particular system you've got to do your homework.

Norbert Floth said... 12 March 2012 at 10:12

Given the ingenuity of design engineers these days, it is only a matter of time before easy-to-install thin-film solar shingles are rolled out in the market. In the long run, it is the consumers who stand to benefit from these developments, as this will give them more options as to the sources of energy they can use in their homes.

Alex Aylett said... 12 March 2012 at 19:08

Thanks for posting Norbert. I see that you are part of the roofing sector. Does your team offer solar services?

I'm always interested to hear how people already establish in a given trade see the introduction of a new technology like solar. Do you think roofers are ready and able to help roll out solar?

Santo Caridine said... 11 September 2012 at 16:06

Thin-film solar panels are attractive for a number of reasons. They are more environmentally friendly to produce, and manufacturing these much lighter and less bulky panels takes a very minimal cost. Mounted on the southern- and western-facing sections of the roof, these thin panels can better handle seasonal differences in the sun's patterns and maximize electricity generation.

Alex Aylett said... 11 September 2012 at 19:58

Hi Santo,
you are the second roofer that has commented on this post and I see you are based in Toronto.

Have you worked with residential solar in the Ontario context?

Solar NJ said... 14 November 2012 at 13:22

They look even cooler then glass roofing. They look hi tech, and their not even bulky like the original counter-parts. I would buy that up in an instant!

-Sharone Tal

united roofing said... 30 December 2016 at 23:37

Interesting and Horrible journey ! it's a beautiful magazine. i got my second copy in the mail yesterday and was thinking of you and your stories and i think you should submit some of your stories to them! seriously!


This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

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