If they want to succeed, solar panels no longer just have to be cheap. They must be pretty too

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Not long ago EcoWatch made a poll in the USA to measure the introduction of photovoltaic energy in the country and, above all, to find out what reasons encouraged or discouraged their homes from installing panels. The balance is more or less positive, but slides a curious data.

When respondents who neither had nor considered making the leap to renewable energy were asked what led them to reject solar installations, they found three main reasons. The main one is its cost and the third is its maintenance. Between the two there is another more striking: simply, there are people who avoid the panels because they find them ugly.

EcoWatch is not the first to warn of to what extent can you influence aesthetics in the implementation of solar energy. Some even point it out as a “key factor”.

Industry and researchers carry a lot of time working to improve them at a technical level, testing new materials, reinforcing their efficiency in different aspects or prolong its useful life. The objective is very clear: that when a businessman or the owner of an apartment block takes out the calculator to do the math, he concludes that solar panels are a profitable option. The problem is… what if all that effort was tarnished because when push came to shove customers found them unsightly? What if the weak point is not technical, but visual?

Good, cheap… and pretty

The sector knows this and has been working for some time on options that go beyond the traditional panels with silicon cells, rigid, bulky and in dark colors. The challenge is no longer just about achieving efficient, affordable, scalable and durable technology; For it to succeed, it must be “pretty”.

One of the most obvious bets to reduce the impact of the plates are solar tiles, plates that are integrated into the roof emulating the traditional pieces. One of the most recent examples is provided by the German company PaXos, which has joined forces with the TH Köln University of Applied Sciences to develop a PVT prototype, “photovoltaic-thermal tiles”, devices capable of generating electricity and heat and barely they are distinguished from normal tiles.

“We want to create an offer for listed buildings and people who have so far refrained from solar energy due to their appearance,” recently recognized Julian Münzberg, director of PaXos. The focus is on both those who discard the panels for aesthetic reasons and those owners who cannot adopt them due to regulatory restrictions. They are not the only ones to work in this line. Two other firms, Autarq and Creaton, also German, also recently presented your own solution of solar tiles: smooth, flat pieces that support photovoltaic elements and safety glass. The goal: to go unnoticed.

Some have opted for another path and focus on almost invisible solar cells, transparent enough that we can consider using them in windows. This has recently been the line of work of a team from the University of Tohoku, in Japan, which in an article published in summer explains how he has made a cell with a level of transparency of 79%. Again they are not the only ones to bet on the possibilities of the approach. In the United Kingdom they already want to take advantage of semi-transparent panels for their greenhouses.

If there is a promising field and one in which the sector has worked intensively in recent years, it is that of solar panels with perovskites, a family of materials with a crystalline structure that can help us convert our windows into solar panels.

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Progress in this direction is also very recent. Months ago, a group of Australian researchers managed to manufacture semitransparent solar cell prototypes that were hopeful. According to his calculations, they achieve a conversion efficiency of 15.5% with an average visible transmission of more than 20%. In practice, both percentages mean that their prototypes offer more than respectable energy efficiency while let in enough light so that tomorrow we can use them in the windows of our houses.

“It represents a big step forward towards the realization of stable and high-efficiency perovskite devices that can be implemented as solar windows”, boasted Professor Jacek Jasieniak, from Monash University. Another possibility that perovskites open the door to is the creation of especially thin films, just enough to make them flexible or even —points The Wall Street Journal— one day we may even spray them like paint.

The range of possibilities that are outlined for the future is wide: integrate solar cells in skylights, balconies, cladding… Some have even rethinking the traditional concept solar panel, such as Pvilion, which is dedicated to making flexible structures, even integrating them into fabrics. On its website it advertises different “solar sails” that act as light pergolas and awnings.

“Anything that is cloth is an opportunity to generate electricity”, explains to TWSJ. Among other advantages, your devices can move in search of the sunniest spots.

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Another line of research focuses on the colors.

It may sound strange, but it may be key among those owners who —EcoWatch warns—they find conventional installations ugly. Conventional blue and black panels may not be very attractive, but… What if we could alter their shades to better fit our home? A similar approach they were made in their day at Jia Tong University, who has sprayed solar cells with nanoparticles that give them bluish, green, or purple colors with an efficiency reduction of just 5%. At New York University or at the greenwich They have also experimented with ways to explore tinted solar panels.

At the end of the day, it is about making the facilities not only profitable, but also nice to look at Or at least discreet. The effort can be key to taking advantage of research and public policies that try to improve the implementation of solar energy.

Images: Markus Winkler (Unsplash), Technology Arts Sciences TH Köln and Tohoku University, Scientific Reports

Not long ago EcoWatch made a poll in the USA to measure the introduction of photovoltaic energy in the country…

Not long ago EcoWatch made a poll in the USA to measure the introduction of photovoltaic energy in the country…

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