Corrugated solar building material reveals potential
While proposed UK government cuts to feed-in tariffs for domestic solar panels pose a challenge to the solar generation industry, new possibilities of integrating photovoltaics (PV) into the fabric of buildings opens new doors for the industry and for domestic and commercial solar power generation.
Research by Noel Bristow (PhD in electronic engineering) and Dr Jeff Kettle of Bangor University’s School of Electronic Engineering published in The Royal Society of Chemistry (Energy & Environmental Science, DOI:10.1039/C5EE02162F) suggests that applying organic photovoltaics (OPVs) onto three dimensional substrates (as opposed to flat), can provide substantial improvements to their efficiency and usefulness.
Due to their low cost, printability, flexibility and rapid energy pay-back time, OPVs are considered to be the most promising options for next-generation solar power generation, and particularly useful for integrating in building materials and construction. Building integrated PV's potential to seamlessly integrate into the building envelope holds aesthetic appeal for architects, builders, and property owners and is a market sector that is expected to grow dramatically over the next 5–10 years. Existing Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) are normally based upon silicon or other inorganic materials, which do not lend themselves particularly well for BIPVs. The advantage of OPVs in the context of BIPV is the free-form design that the printing approach automatically grants. This implies that the solar cells can be printed in any pattern.
In this work, OPVs were laminated directly onto existing roofing materials. The research at Bangor University has found that deploying OPVs in this manner led to significant improvements in efficiency in the early morning and late evening. The improvement in the performance is particularly significant in the evening as this is when demand and usage for electricity in the UK is at its highest and the cost it generally at its highest. In additional, the contours of the corrugated panels also enable the PV to generate more electricity in cloudy conditions with around a 30% enhancement, when compared to a flat solar panel on the same surface area.
Jeff Kettle commented: “The results of our testing could lead to a product that has profound advantages over existing BIPV products or conventional inorganic solar technologies, in particular for countries at higher latitudes.”
Noel Bristow said: “OPVs are on the brink of being commercially viable and it is in areas such as structured BIPV where that breakthrough will come.”
The work was supported by collaborators at the Institute of Energy in Cardiff University and at the Risø DTU National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy in Denmark.
Publication date: 26 October 2015