Flexible Solar Powered Rooftop Shingles
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland have developed flexible solar panels that could be installed on roofs like shingles. This technology was originally used to protect flat panel televisions from dampness. They used to cover television screen with transparent, thin films that acted as barriers. These transparent thin film barriers are now becoming the basis for flexible solar panels that would be installed on roofs like shingles. These flexible rooftop solar panels are known as building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPVs. They could replace today’s boxy solar panels. We all know that current solar panels are made with rigid glass or silicon and mounted on thick metal frames. If we compare present solar panels and flexible solar shingles we will find the later ones less expensive to install than current panels and made to last 25 years.
This technology was developed by PNNL in 1990s. They consider utilizing this technology in fifteen possible ways. One of it was solar power. But when Vitex Systems licensed the technology from Battelle, it refocused its goals. They saw potential and commercial success in developing ultra-barrier films for flat-panel displays, such as televisions. Now Vitex and PNNL, which is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy, are reorienting the use of ultra-barrier films. The time might be right for them to exploit the current alternative energy scenario. Mark Gross, a PNNL senior scientist, explains “There’s a lot of wasted space on rooftops that could actually be used to generate power. Flexible solar panels could easily become integrated into the architecture of commercial buildings and homes. Solar panels have had limited success because they’ve been difficult and expensive to install.”
The encapsulation process and the ultra-barrier film – called Barix™ Encapsulation and Barix™ Barrier Film, correspondingly – are already established and efficient moisture barriers. Now researchers are trying to find out a technology that could be successfully implemented to solar panels. The research work will be undertaken by Vitex and Battelle. It will be done under a cooperative research and development agreement recently signed by Vitex and Battelle. Battelle is the majority shareholder of Vitex, based in San Jose, California. Currently researchers are engaged in creating low-cost flexible barrier films and they are evaluating substrate materials for solar panels that can survive sunshine, rain and hail for decades. They will also work out the details of manufacturing process for large-scale production.
PNNL’s research will be funded by DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Technology Commercialization Fund. The estimated cost of the project willbe $350,000 . A commercial match to the funding is required, and Vitex will provide up to $350,900 in labor, equipment and materials. If this project is completed successfully, this progression will decrease solar panel manufacturing costs to less than $1 per watt of power, which would be competitive with the 10 cents per kilowatt-hour that a utility would charge.
“Vitex is proud to continue its long, successful relationship with PNNL,” said Martin Rosenblum, Vitex’s vice president of operations and engineering. “Vitex is excited to further its Barix™ technology’s proven barrier performance for photovoltaics toward mass manufacturing. Together, we look forward to creating a product that will help alleviate America’s dependence on foreign oil and increase America’s access to an abundant renewable energy source – the sun.”