Building materials giant Johns Manville, a Berkshire Hathaway company once best known for its asbestos shingles, has just announced that it is entering the solar roof market in a big way. The company will buy thin film solar laminates made by Michigan-based United Solar Ovonic, a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices. United Solar has already started bringing green jobs into Michigan, and the Johns Manville connection could mean that more expansion is in store.
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United Solar Ovonic and Green Jobs for the Rust Belt
United Solar Ovonic, also known as Uni-Solar, began bringing green jobs to the rust belt in 2003, with the construction of its first solar manufacturing plant in Auburn Hills. A second followed in 2006, and two more were constructed in Greenville. In 2008 the company broke ground on a fifth plant in Battle Creek which is expected to go online in 2010. Meanwhile, the company is expanding capacity at its existing facilities and acquiring other solar companies to meet the demand.
United Solar and CIGS Thin Film
CIGS stands for copper-indium-gallium-selenide. As used in the manufacture of thin film solar laminates, CIGS has a far higher efficiency that other thin film technologies. CIGS falls short of the standard set by crystalline silicon solar cells, but once the commercial process is fully developed it is expected to be far cheaper than silicon. Ease of installation is factor that weighs in thin film’s favor.
More Green Jobs for the Rust Belt
CIGS thin film is not Johns Manville’s first foray into greener building materials. Though not quite up to the level of recycled blue jean insulation, the company does offer formaldehyde-free fiber glass insulation with 20% post-consumer recycled content. Somewhat under the radar, smaller green companies have been taking advantage of manufacturing opportunities in the slumbering rust belt. With Johns Manville in the green market, it could be that the sleeping giant has finally awakened.
Image: Marlith on flickr.com.