Future solar cells will be building materials

May 7, 2015 - 05:37
Article from Gemini, SINTEF

Solar cells will soon become integrated into roofing and exterior facade materials. We will save on construction materials and manpower – and save money on our electricity bills too.

Norway is ideally suited for exploiting solar energy. The coutry has sufficient light in spite of the winter's long dark nights and freezing temperatures. (Illustration: Microstock)

“This is a guaranteed future development and will probably become part of both the Norwegian building tradition and universal climate change technology”, says physicist Tore Kolås, who has just started work on a major research project looking into BIPV (Building-integrated photovoltaics).

Norway is ideally suited for exploiting solar energy. It has sufficient light in spite of our winter’s long dark nights and freezing temperatures. Norway is actually just as well suited as Germany or the UK. In fact, a cold climate is an advantage because solar cells are more effective in the cold.

“The project will be looking into how we can integrate solar cells into house-building materials and adapt the concept for Norwegian daylight and temperature conditions”, says Kolås.

One of the challenges is to develop a solar cell which prevents the accumulation of snow and ice. The cells must also be robust enough to withstand harsh wind and weather conditions and thus have sufficient lifetimes to be able to function as effective electricity generators.

“However, we will also be developing the materials so as to maximise their ability to adapt to Norwegian daylight conditions where the sun is low in the sky and solar radiation commonly diffuse”, says Kolås.

A natural alternative

“Our aim, purely and simply, is to develop systems that are so effective that it will be natural for developers to consider them when evaluating building materials in the design phase. The potential is enormous. Even today, windows are manufactured with in-built, semi-transparent, solar cells”, he says.

Initially, the project will not be focusing on developing specific products, but will use the time to acquire a sound knowledge base as a foundation for future product development.

The trend is clear for everyone to see – solar cells are making their mark in Norway. Oslo Municipality is now offering subsidies to anyone who wants to integrate solar cells into their buildings.

And from 15 January, Enova (the state-owned green energy funding organisation) has been offering grants to private households who want to install solar cells, while businesses can apply for grants if installation is part of an extension or major renovation project.

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