High-tech architecture (aka Structural Expressionism) has begun to embrace solar, and it’s the hottest thing under the sun. One amazing example: Emirates Insolaire’s new custom colored solar panels – Kromatix, a Swiss technology developed by Swissinso. ”We go vertical, we dress the building with a beautiful energy-producing skin.”
The product debuted back in 2015 at the Water, Energy, Technology, and Environment Exhibition (WETEX 2015) and is finding its way into more installations today.
Rafic Hanbali, Managing Partner of Emirates Insolaire, said: “There is a strong latent demand for building integrated photovoltaic solar glass, which is one of the specialities of Emirates Insolaire. It is in fact a building material which is far more beautiful than the traditional one, as easy and straight to install, produces the energy instead of absorbing it, and has the same cost range which results in a very rapid return on investment.”
The group sends their already colored glass to the various solar panel manufacturers to replace the standard glass in the process. We were told Avancis, Solibro and SunPower were among the manufacturers who’d had their product covered in Insolaire’s coloring.
Notice the one image above where you can see just see the solar cells through the material. No other images that I’ve seen gave that sort of view.
Found on the Emirates Insolaire website is a specification sheet of a variety of solar panels with coloring applied. The product can be applied to almost any solar panel – the panels being chosen based upon the situation.
Located on the Swissinso website, you see that the coloring material is applied to the outside layer of glass.
The coloring technology lowers the chosen solar panel’s efficiency between 10-14%, depending on the color.
Hanbali gave us the example of the Copenhagen International School. He wrote in an email to Electrek:
Copenhagen International School aerial photo that in the reflection in the sea you only see the windows’ reflection and not the building’s (no gloss, no reflection). The modules are crystalline PV. This is where we make the difference: we go vertical, we dress the building with a beautiful energy-producing skin. Otherwise, where do you want to find only horizontal spaces in our cities to install solar panels? Roofs are far from being sufficient. A roof of a one floor house has more or less the same area as that of a sky scraper.
The number one reason Tesla’s Solar Roof is going to sell out the Gigafactory for years to come is that people like the look of the product. The next hurdle to jump is whether this good-looking solar product makes enough energy at the right price for me to deal with it. The Dow Chemical solar shingles group never figured it out (I’d always had high hopes for the product).
Emirates Insolaire might have found a balance between efficiency of solar panel (10-14% loss) and cost of material – $50-70/meter square which means $81-94/residential solar panel. For a cutting-edge residential solar panel in the 330W range – that’s 24-28¢/W. The average US installation size is about 5.5kW, so the coloring would add an additional cost of ~$1300-1500 per house (this value was confirmed as roughly correct by Swissinso). In the US, a 5.5kW Insolaire solar system will cover the cost of the coloring (without counting incentives or tax credits) in a bit more than 1.5 years (accounting for efficiency losses). I’d bet that if a major solar panel manufacturer placed a 1GW+ order for this glass we could see the price of this material fall significantly.
We’ve got evidence that people will spend extra on a highly aesthetic solar install (see Tesla Solar Roof). This product probably costs less than a solar shingle product.
While the company does seem to be aiming their product toward commercial structures – namely the facades of tall structures – would this sort of coloring be enough to make you want to install it on your house if you’d been holding up for aesthetic reasons?
Broadly, we already know that the US can get 40% of its electricity from rooftops alone, and maybe even another 40% of its electricity from windows. I’ve not seen any studies looking at the facades of buildings and what percentage we can get from there. Notice I’ve not even mentioned large land-based installations in my above percentages. The question is no longer, can we power ourselves with solar and wind, but what combination of hardware makes the most sense across the varied regions of the planet.