Dow Chemical has unveiled a solar shingle, an invention that sounds like it will make it far easier and cheaper to convert homes to solar power. Not only that, but the end result should look better, too.

Dow Chemical, which has made it on to some research analysts' lists of most sustainable companies, announced its new line of Powerhouse Solar Shingle on October 5. What makes the shingles groundbreaking is that they can be integrated into rooftops with standard asphalt shingle materials.

"This is about providing roof protection and electricity generation all from one product, with lower costs, improved aesthetics, easier installation and long-lasting performance," commented Jane Palmieri, managing director of Dow Solar Solutions, a Dow Chemical unit. In 2007, the company received $20 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop "building integrated" solar arrays for the residential and commercial markets.

The solar shingle systems are expected to be available in limited quantities by mid-2010 and projected to be more widely available in 2011. According to Dow Chemical, the system integrates low-cost, thin-film CIGS photovoltaic cells into a proprietary roofing shingle design, which reduces installation costs because the conventional roofing shingles and solar generating shingles are installed simultaneously by roofing contractors. Roofing contractors don't need specialized skills or knowledge to install the shingles.