Monday, September 13, 2010

Dow to Hire 100 for Powerhouse Solar Shingle Manufacturing


Out of all the renewable energy home-based products hitting the market, I believe that this one has the most potential when it comes to a cost-effective system that offers both ease of installment and maintenance, without the fuss of aesthetics and placement that other systems such as wind turbines can produce. The picture above comes from the Dow Kokam car battery groundbreaking/announcement from June, but I was absolutely thrilled to see these on display there as well. After all, wouldn't it be great to plug your new electric car into your renewable energy home? Wouldn't it be great to produce all the energy you need yourself? Imagine every home and business as its own little power station. We are closer than you think.

Introduced last October, the Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingle went into testing this year with the goal of mass commercial release in 2011 - and with today's hiring announcement, it appears they are right on schedule.

“This represents a significant milestone towards bringing our Dow POWERHOUSE™ solar shingles to the market in 2011, and confirms that we are on track to deliver this pioneering new residential solar technology next year,” said Palmieri. “It is also the first phase towards bringing more than 1,200 jobs to the region by 2014 to support the production of our solar product here in Midland.”

The initial wave of solar-related jobs at Dow’s Michigan operations will be in manufacturing, with hiring of qualified candidates expected to begin as early as the end of September. The Company worked closely with union officials to develop the criteria for these positions, and ensure the right skills were in place to support the anticipated 2011 market demands.

Union jobs, you say? Not an issue. Dow has chosen Michigan to launch the first full-scale production of this product - and skill is what counts.

“We’re excited to add these manufacturing jobs to our Michigan Operations facility to begin contributing to the local economic base immediately,” said Earl Shipp, Dow vice president for Michigan Operations. “As Dow adds to its portfolio of building-related solar-energy-generating products, we’ll continue to tap into the base of highly skilled workers we have right here in the Great Lakes Bay Region.”

Time Magazine named the shingles one of the "50 Best Inventions of 2009" with good reason. They can be installed with conventional roofing tools, the power fed to a simple box in your basement that is no bigger than a regular fuse box, and that power can also be fed back to the grid. Earlier this year, Dow partnered with Cobblestone Homes to build Michigan's first net-zero house, using a combination of these shingles with geothermal heating and other energy efficient solutions such as sealants and insulation to produce the savings. While they warn that not every house can be made "net-zero", this proves there are products already on the market that can substantially lower energy costs and cut the demand for fossil fuels.

It can be done. It will be done. Provided we don't blow it, we will see a day when all new construction will include renewable energy options such as this. And, as costs continue to fall as the technology becomes even more efficient and powerful, it will be easier to retro-fit existing homes as well. Even better yet, just recently there was a breakthrough in energy storage that pertains to these home-based systems - they have discovered a new catalyst that boosts the production of oxygen that can be stored in a fuel cell for later use. Wonkish science stuff is as follows:

"Our goal is to make each home its own power station," said study leader Daniel Nocera, Ph.D. "We're working toward development of 'personalized' energy units that can be manufactured, distributed and installed inexpensively. There certainly are major obstacles to be overcome — existing fuel cells and solar cells must be improved, for instance. Nevertheless, one can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic system."

Such a system would consist of rooftop solar energy panels to produce electricity for heating, cooking, lighting, and to charge the batteries on the homeowners' electric cars. Surplus electricity would go to an "electrolyzer," a device that breaks down ordinary water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen. Both would be stored in tanks. In the dark of night, when the solar panels cease production, the system would shift gears, feeding the stored hydrogen and oxygen into a fuel cell that produces electricity (and clean drinking water as a byproduct). Such a system would produce clean electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week — even when the sun isn't shining.

Integrate something like that with the products that Dow and others are offering, and we are well on the way to living in a society that can power itself with natural elements. This new catalyst has been licensed to Sun Catalytix, which "envisions developing safe, super-efficient versions of the electrolyzer, suitable for homes and small businesses, within two years." Give it a decade, maybe even less, for those improvements in fuel and solar cells to come about - and we are there.

Now all we have to do is figure out a way to give people like DTE and Consumers a cut so they don't try to throw up roadblocks when they are threatened with the loss of market share. But I get ahead of myself with statements like that. For today, Dow is creating green jobs, green union jobs to boot, with visions of thousands more to come in the future when this product takes off - and they are doing it right here in Michigan. Yea for us.