Solar-based technologies are finding applications in virtually all aspects of life, providing alternative energy solutions and widening the range of options available to us. We've covered solar air-conditioners, solar car chargers, solar generators, solar water pumps, solar laptop chargers, solar water heaters, solar freezers, solar streetlights, solar roofs, solar windows, etc. Our last article in this series dealt with solar wireless keyboard, this article will cover what is not necessarily an energy solution, but another incredible plot twist in the story of the solar industry so far.
The saying 'Looks don't matter' hardly applies in the solar industry. As a rule, solar panels are built to be aesthetically pleasing. The best brands offer panels that are aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and those that integrate well with most conventional rooftops. However, when mounted on rooftops, as is often the case, majority of solar panels in the market do not integrate very well with most rooftops. They announce their presence on rooftops in ways that could be ugly and distracting.
In 2012, graduate students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took on this challenge when they founded Sistine Solar. They wanted to extend the impact of Industrial and UX Design into the solar technology sector and deliver improved product aesthetics they say could “speak to consumers’ hearts”. The fruit of their labours became the solar skin.
What Solar Skins Are Not?
Solar skins are not solar panels. They are rather highly durable, graphic film appliqué that are customized using a proprietary algorithm to visually blend with an existing or new array of solar panels in ways that match the roof aesthetic without adversely impacting the efficiencies and productivity of solar panels.
Sistine Solar offers their SolarSkin with a 10-year manufacturer warranty. The product has passed efficiency tests at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado.
Sistine Solar say their SolarSkins can withstand adverse weather from endless sunshine to intense, humid heat, intense cold, etc. They also say that their SolarSkin is fade-resistant meaning that they ensure a beautiful aesthetic its useful lifetime.
Solar Advertising: An Extra Attraction For Business Owners
Sistine Solar also offers its SolarSkin for business owners who can use the skins as billboards or signposts. Their graphic is 100% customizable, able to feature logo, imagery, text, custom artwork and displays in a wide range of colours. They can also be scaled up as the owners power needs expands.
Pros and Cons
They work in some ways like the solar window. They act as 'concentrators' filtering off the harsher wavelengths in the white light spectrum for use by the solar cells beneath them. In this way, they are able to maintain high efficiency and thus serve additional purposes whilst providing solar energy.
Made of graphene, solar skins are self-cleaning. Graphene is a special form of carbon that is a layer only one atom thick. It has two applications: one, it reduces losses due to the solar cells reflecting away up to 35% of the sunlight that falls on their surface. This reduction increases the transmission of light through the glass. By increasing the amount of light that passes through, the graphene helps increase the output of a panel by 1-2Wwatts.
Read our Review of ZNShine Solar Panels, Innovators of Self-Cleaning Solar Technology Here
They utilize no racking systems, sit lower, have a sleek finish, and hide metal components, giving the panels a super cool look. In addition to optimal aesthetics, solar skins also provide extra protection for solar panels from UV degradation.
They serve a additional purpose; they can be custom-branded to display business logos, business advertisements, a country’s flag, and so on. In this way, they make it possible for the space taken up by the panels to be reused.
Sistine Solar enables users to monitor their system performance on their smartphones. It alerts them of issues like solar energy outages, and prescribe solutions.
The only downside is that solar skins add an additional 10% to the price of solar panels. Regardless, most users will consider this additional cost negligible. Also, users should expect minimal losses in solar panel efficiency courtesy of the solar skins. But this too, can be disregarded or mitigated by slightly oversizing the system.
SolarSkin™ is trademarked by Sistine Solar, the first, and for now, the only movers into this sector of the solar industry. Solar skins are not yet widely even in the United States where they are currently available for purchase. But they may be, if not for the optimized appearance they but for the extra protection they offer solar panels.