I stumbled on a news item at CleanTechnica today about next-generation solar windows that reminded me to check on the progress of one of my personal favorite game-changing solar technologies.
First, the CleanTechnica item in brief: A company called New Energy Technologies has received some government funding to move forward with the development of a photovoltaic (PV) coating for windows. This is one of a host of “organic PV” and other nanoparticle technologies pursuing the promise of truly ubiquitous solar power. (There’s a roundup of a few others, from spray-on solar paint to solar “ink,” in the linked article.)
Now to my personal fave: Dyesol. I first encountered the company on a research trip to Australia back in 2008 (which eventually led to this Fast Company feature, among other things). At the time, Dyesol was a small R&D shop working out of an industrial park in suburban Canberra. I gawked in amazement at the extraordinarily fast and simple production process for their solar cells, which is closer to silk-screening a T-shirt than the advanced silicon-chip processing used in conventional PV. And then my jaw dropped even further as I watched a small Dyesol panel in action — spinning a pair of fans in the company boardroom. Indoors. With the blinds closed. In deep shadow. (There’s a reasonably layperson-friendly description of the tech wizardry involved at Dyesol’s own website.)
Dyesol had just entered into an agreement with the company formerly known as British Steel; it was known for a time as Corus and is now a division of India-based Tata Steel. The British arm of the company makes millions of square feet of Colorcoat cladding each year — steel roofing coated in a variety of weather-resistant colors, enough of the stuff produced annually to reroof every Walmart in America.
The idea was to coat the roofing material in a layer of Dyesol solar cells instead of a decorator color. The technical specs seemed promising, and the Welsh government kicked in enough cash to turn the idea into an R&D project worth about $20 million thus far. The latest? It appears to be all systems go. The test production facility is up and running, and a demonstration building roofed in solar cells is in the works.
The promise here is truly awe-inspiring. The big knock on solar to date has been its high production cost and somewhat time-consuming implementation process. The great promise of these “third-generation” solar technologies like Dyesol (the first two generations being conventional silicon PV and thin film) is that they can be applied together as BIPV — building-integrated photovoltaics, solar electricity generators that could simply become part of the skin of buildings, built into walls and windows and roofs just like reflective coatings and low-E deposition layers are today. Indeed my most recent encounter with a Dyesol cell was in Toledo, Ohio, where architectural glass maker Pilkington has started playing around with the idea.
The age of ubiquitous solar power remains a few years off at present, but it’s never been closer at hand and the road to that ubiquity has never looked quite so straight and smooth.