Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Jun 14

Flexible Solar Powered Rooftop Shingles

Posted in Energy Inventions | Photovoltaic Cells | Solar Power

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.”

  • Jules Hazard

    So the question is… is it like the old ones? cause you could not walk on those, they would get damaged… cool though.

  • Shawn Seaver

    Been hearing about this, I look forward to applications like this catching on, it’s about time…

  • Julie Lancaster Cowan

    This is brilliant and should be standard for all new houses.

  • Charles Simpson

    See I say again, why aren’t wind turbines covered in solar panels? they could easily be producing double if not triple the power and consistently too, not just when its windy.

  • Tony DeMerchant

    Flexible solar panels shingles this I really like. Nice point of view Charles on wind turbines and solar panels a concept need doing.

  • Paul Barnes

    I think you will find that this idea is already in production. I think the idea comes from a company called nanosolar.

  • RB

    This is still the holy grail search for aesthetics that meets the efficiency required to justify. If we aren’t so anal about appearance and realized that simple is better, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I totally agree with research to expand our future options but the mindset of many is similar to the analogy that when cars reach 100mpg AND cost less that $20K, then I’ll do it. Not very wise thinking. We need to remember that the market still drives innovation but holding of on progress when we are in the economic and technological void of today is not wise. Support innovation by moving forward in small steps if neccessary. JMHO

  • Steve

    I think flexible solar is a good idea, especially in the area of Texas where I live where damaging hail is a potential problem as well as extreme winds. The way I see it, being able to flex would be very beneficial. But, that’s just my 2 cents.

  • cancerman72

    I think I have seen this installed one of those Green show a few months back. Its a great concept. I forget what the show was called. Anyone remember?

  • Keith Elliott

    Paul Barnes notes that Nanosolar (A Google backed California Company) started this off. They did not actually invent the process, but they did take it and run with the idea. Their production costs are less than $1 per watt, making the electricity price-competitive with that of the grid. Which, as we all know, only goes up. And as for balance of system costs, that depends somewhat on whether or not you have a stand alone system, or purely grid tied, in which case your power might go out when the grid goes down. If you do indeed have battery backup, inverter etc., then, yes your costs are higher, but not prohibitive. Any half decent DIY person can keep the installation costs down to almost nothing.
    Personally, I like the idea that my power NEVER fails me.

  • Ralph Perez

    It might be good to mount these on a bi-metal surface that would bend toward the sun when the heat (or cold) is sensed. Similar to the way the old thermostats used to work.
    This would be a sort of inexpensive solar tracker.

    Keep the ideas coming… the economy will grow as consumers are able to afford these systems and pocket the energy (gas and electric) dollars saved.

  • victor

    Sounds like these guys aught to get together with the guys at this site: Here we have the film…there they have the process for turning it into high efficiency solar thin-film. Maybe between the two of them someone will come up with a product that the average home owner can afford to install without taking out a second or third mortgage. Personally I think it’s a damn shame that you can buy solar powered toys for a dollar or two, but you can’t begin to install a useful system of home power generation for less than $20,000, bare bones. Given the crisis (now or upcoming) in energy, here and abroad, our government should be doing its’ utmost to make each household a generator for, instead of a drain on the grid. It’s almost as if the big energy corporations are dictating that prices stay high and availability stay low. Imagine Denver, or Albuquerque, or New York with a high percentage of their private and commercial structures fitted with solar and acting as generators for the grid…that would free up all that lovely hydroelectric and fuel driven generation for other applications. Suddenly no more energy crisis, no more rolling blackouts/brownouts, no more addiction to foreign oil, no more funding of foreign terrorists BY foreign oil profits, no more bankrupting of US homeowners by exorbitant monthly energy bills, and no more fluctuating markets betting on energy futures. Besides all that, think of all the thousands of JOBS that could be created by such an enterprise.

  • Keith Elliott

    Since the inception of this thread – nearly two years – steady advances continue to be made. Roofing shingles have long been available, but the price is still too high.
    The cost of regular panels has dropped drastically, which brings the cost of a system within reach of the average family.
    Victor seems to think it costs $20,000 for a bare bones system. This may have been true several years ago, but now you can buy the materials for a 1 KW system for around $5,000. You would need to do the install yourself to keep the cost at this level.
    The biggest part of a solar system is CONSERVATION. My wife & I successfully live on a 500 watt system which we installed over a decade ago. It still performs flawlessly.

  • victor

    I love this thread, it gets a lot of good ideas out there, and helps me stay informed. I appreciate that some households can run on 500 watts, and in such a case I can see why my estimate might be considered to be a bit on the high side. I also appreciate that CONSERVATION is a big part of ANY alternative energy system, whether solar, wind, hydro or otherwise. My estimate of $20,000 for a bare bones system was based on my own households average consumption. I run 2 1/2 homes and a small livestock operation, and do my utmost to CONSERVE at every opportunity (in order to survive)…last months consumption (electric alone) was 3,628 Kwh.

    What would a likely estimate for a ‘bare bones’ system on that scale put me out? I can’t say, but my own research has shown that I can’t hope to come close to my generation needs for less than $20,000. I also happen to live in one of the many areas in which there exist no rebate programs available for private household green installations, so any expenditures along those lines come directly out of my not so deep pockets.

    Personally, I believe that America could, and should invest in ensuring that ALL new building incorporate solar roofing, and that every effort should be made to expedite retrofitting the rest. Such a program would revitalize our energy structure, create millions of new jobs and go a long way toward freeing us from a dependency on foreign oil.

  • Keith Elliott

    Yesterday I did some checking on just how inexpensively I could locate ready-to-go solar panels. Home Power magazine lists some in the $1 per watt range – you must buy a pallet load to get that price.
    Your consumption of 120 KWH a day would be very difficult to cover with solar alone. I don’t know how you heat your water, but if it is with electricity, I would think that a solar hot water system would go a very long way to dipping into your electricity bill.
    In the winter time we need the use of a small backup generator (Honda EU 2000) but in the summer, we have far more power available from the panels than we consume. We heat our water with either solar or wood.
    It is easy to make your own domestic water heating system at far less cost than having to buy one.
    If you opted for a batteryless grid tied system, your cost for a 2 KW system could still be done for around $5,000.
    You do need to remember that you cannot effectively have things like electric hot water, electric ovens, electric heating and so on with a solar powered system, unless you want to spend a large fortune. Much of the success of solar systems depends on the willingness to change parts of your lifestyle.
    When we moved to this small island we are on, there was no grid power here, so it was a matter of necessity that we use alternative energy. It was far easier than we thought. And truthfully, we are not short of anything.
    I am definitely with you in that not just America, but EVERY country should be embracing all of the forms of energy.
    I think that if you started with a small system and added more panels as you could afford them that you would quickly find ways of getting through much less electricity.
    And of course, not knowing that you were talking about several different structures, I can understand why your base system could easily run into the $20,000 range.

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