I remember many years ago, there was a lot of emphasis and news around solar shingles. Why? Because 3 or 4 years ago many people thought that the look of solar photovoltaic modules would hinder adoption and the whole industry would suffer.

Dow Chemical has now reported that they’ve finally released solar shingles. They were invented in 2009, but they’re now just coming to market after going through testing and certification.

So what does this mean for the industry? Does it even matter?

While it’s impossible to predict their success, I think it depends on a number of factors:

1 – Cost. What is the cost per nominal wattage?

This will be the first and arguably most important question about the solar shingles. Dow claims they are ‘cost competitive’. I’ll believe it when I see the cost sheet from a distributor.

However, it is possible that they might be able to charge a premium for a customer that prefers their aesthetics to traditional modules.

To Dow’s point, we must remember to look past hard equipment costs and also consider installation time. Dow claims the installation time is cut in half. This could be useful for large commercial pitched roofs where labor costs are high due to prevailing wage requirements.

It also will most likely be true for new construction, but will not apply to existing homes with new-ish roofs.

2 – This brings up an important point about aesthetics. Don’t people want to see their solar modules?

Many people like, if not LOVE, the look of solar modules because of what they represent. As the industry is growing so fast, I’d assume that there are going to be many different types of customers and market niches.

There will likely be customers who prefer the look of modules and those that want the solid financial returns of solar, but dislike the look of the modules and thus install solar shingles.

3 – Should we train roofers or electricians?

From a design and installation perspective many contractors are justifiably weary of recommending any technology that they’re not really familiar with designing, quoting or installing. This makes sense, you should avoid any headaches if you have the chance.

The bottom line is, the less training needed to understand how to design, quote or install these new shingles the greater likelihood they’ll be used. If it’s too hard to learn how to do them, my bet is that contractors will continue to recommend traditional modules even if the solar shingles are a better fit, simply because they don’t need to learn a new skill set.

The press release claims electricians are not needed. This is not true in Massachusetts where you’re required to be an electrician to touch any device that creates, distributes or houses electric equipment.

Key Takeaways for Solar Contractors:

Keep solar shingles in the back of your mind. I wouldn’t recommend focusing on bringing a new product into your business. I’d spend time focusing on increasing your company’s profitability by streamlining operations, training your design and installation workforce to make them more efficient, and lastly on growing sales.

There is one exception:  If a lot of your customers tell you they would LOVE solar if it only looked better, then show them some pictures of solar shingles. However, if you’re not losing business because you don’t offer solar shingles, don’t worry about it.