The Many Attractive Faces of Solar Panels

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Today’s post is by Jeanne Roberts from the CalFinder solar energy blog.  What with an ever-evolving approach to solar energy when it comes to research, development, and implementation, the idea of solar energy, specifically the design and look of solar panels, is often not thought of in terms of appearance, and aesthetics.  Here’s where Jeanne sets us all straight …


For those who visualize a solar panel as a single, flat, rectangular box about six inches thick, usually black or dark, with a sheet of glass on top, think again.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is spreading its wings, from panels to shingles and beyond. And while not all technologies are currently available to homeowners, consider what might await 20-somethings when they finally start buying their first homes.

BIPV Solar (Panels You Can’t See)
The oldest of these building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) solar energy technologies is in roofing. There, thanks to solar firms like SRS Energy, you can buy slate roofing tiles, roofing shakes, or Spanish-style clay tiles in various shapes and colors, some of which integrate into existing roofs, and others designed for new-roof applications.

Some Spanish-style clay tiles, which involve including Active (electrically-generating) tiles into Inactive tiles, provides a visually identical series of roofing elements that SRS Energy hopes will become a part of modern construction paradigms.

Self-Adhering Solar Panels
For those with metal roofs, or where climate almost demands the use of metal, Uni-Solar offers laminated, self-adhering solar panels designed for integration with 16″ standing seam metal roofs.

The panels are peel-n-stick and do not require roof penetrations for mounting (a clear plus with any roof), and quick-connect terminals at the ridge line make the solar electric part easy, too. For more options in solar metal roofing, also check out Whirlwind and Energy Peak.

Solar-Harvesting Window Panes
If roofing just isn’t your thing, imagine windows purpose-built to harvest solar energy. At MIT (Mass. Institute of Technology), that’s exactly what scientist Marc A. Baldo has done.

Baldo, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Associate Profess of Electrical Engineering (try finding an acronym for that!) envisions windows, or other flat glass panels, collecting solar energy across their entire surface using a blend of dyes that optimize solar radiance at various wavelengths, but harvest the energy only at the window edges to save engineering costs.

And, because the system is simple to manufacture, Baldo and team believe that the product might be available as soon as 2011, with efficiencies that improve on today’s by a factor of more than 40 percent.

Solar Awnings
Already onstage are solar awnings; that is, standard awnings structurally beefed up to accommodate the weight of solar panels. And in Yellowknife, Canada, Visionwall has clad the south face of the upper nine floors of a 10-story building in BIPV thin film to turn the entire building into a solar PV energy generator.

Coming Soon: Solar Paint
Finally, when all else fails, consider solar paint. Still on the drawing board, so to speak, the paint uses the wavelength differential MIT is attempting to harness, as well as nano particles (carbon tubes 10,000 times narrower than a human hair). NextGen hopes to harness the technology and start manufacturing product to deliver solar energy at up to 40 percent efficiency and one-third of the current cost of solar panels.

The first use is likely to be on government buildings, but if successful it might soon appear as an element of residential house paint, and could help you keep your home warm while making it more attractive.


Thanks, Jeanne!

For more information about what’s out there when looking for solar panels, and for other information about solar energy in general, please be sure to check out the CalFinder solar blog.

You can also follow the CalFinder solar blog on Twitter @Home_Solar.  And you can ‘like’ the Calfinder Solar Facebook page, too.



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