Flexible modules could transform windows and buildings into solar panels
October 11, 2007 Traditionally, solar panels for buildings have predominantly been stand alone systems mounted to roofs in order to capture sunlight. The growing focus on "green" energy and a move away from reliance on fossil fuels is driving smarter and more integrated methods of procuring alternative energy sources such as solar, and in line with this, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has invested $4.7 million to develop technology that would allow windows and other building applications to be converted into solar panels.
Under the Advanced Technology Program (ATP), NIST has awarded funds to two companies who will work towards trying to create transparent building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) technology which would allow windows and other building integrated applications to capture sunlight to convert to power. Konarka Technologies and Air Products will aim to find ways to develop future applications for this technology that would undoubtedly be welcomed by home owners and the renewable energy sector.
Konarka will use the funds to further develop its patented, transparent, metallic grid electrode technology for the new cell and module architecture while Air Products will develop high-conductivity polymers with more efficient charge injection capability in Organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells. OPV technology is unique among solar energy alternatives as it has the potential for selecting materials for varying levels of transparency, capable of absorbing narrowly or broadly in one or more regions of the visible and near-infrared spectrum.
If successful in their mission the technology will be suitable for use in windows capable of controlling transparency for privacy, regulating the wavelength of light passing through for energy conservation and for aesthetics. Since the materials are capable of harvesting indoor as well as outdoor light, the solar modules can be integrated into building sensors, battery chargers, lighting and displays, and wireless security monitoring systems.
Rick Hess, president and CEO of Konarka, said that they are delighted to have been selected for the ATP funding and believes it can accelerate their research. "The Advanced Technology Program is changing the way industry approaches R&D, providing a mechanism for industry to extend its technological reach and extend the envelope of what can be attempted," said Hess. Konarka are also the creators of light-activated power plastic, Power Plastic(R), which has applications for both military and consumer product use.
There is a lot of heat (pun intended) on the solar industry at present with new technologies coming to light every day. Money is being poured into research and development of solar products for both commercial and residential use with a strong focus on technology integrated into building materials, as opposed to being added-on. One recent development bearing some similarities in this regard is a solar reflective film developed by Southwall Technologies that, although it doesn't generate power, can be applied to a window’s interior to significantly prevent the loss of radiant heat through the window and thus benefit energy consumption.