Why the latest innovation in solar panels makes them more likely to be fitted, even though they’re less efficient

Posted by Derek Mason

15th September 2020

– Photo credit: Science in HD on Unsplash

Solar panels are not always the most attractive element of a building, especially when they’re retrofitted rather than included at the design stage.

If they don’t fit in with the existing building design, they can look like an ugly addition.

Now that is becoming less of a problem, as new-generation solar panels can be fabricated in any pattern. These are only able to be produced after many years of research, testing and experimentation, but they can now be manufactured in a wide range of sizes, colours and patterns.

In one of the first projects of its kind, earlier this year, brick-patterned solar panels were added to BAM’s head office frontage in Bunnik in the Netherlands.

These pattern-mimicking panels have been developed by the Dutch research organisation TNO, with the help of both small and large companies, plus a €1.1 million subsidy from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

This product can be designed to both blend in and to stand out. For example, BAM chose a brick motif that means the solar panels are camouflaged against the building. But businesses and other organisations can also choose to incorporate artwork or their logo.

These solar panels are not the most eco-conscious option to go for, in that they function at around 85% efficiency compared with a standard solar panel. But they may result in more organisations fitting solar panels, in which case that is an advantage. The panels at BAM have a peak capacity of 220 watts – and an 85% efficiency solar panel is better than no solar panel.

Start-up business Solar Visuals is marketing the modules (this business came out of TNO) and they work closely with architects UNStudio and design and print company TS Visuals. Plus, there are partners involved like the Solar Electricity and Design Innovation Group.

There are greater efficiencies on the way with this product. TNO is working on reducing the weight of each panel by swapping the glass being used with plastic. And their team is also working on increasing the energy yield of the panels.

These solar panels can be added during renovation, and the goal of the project is to keep working towards making both commercial and residential buildings energy neutral.

It’s a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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