Techie Tuesday: Solar Power Cloth

Forget bulky solar panels, new solar cloth can be used on carports, tents and other places that won’t hold up much weight.  A British company has invented lightweight photovoltaic fabric that can be stretched across parking lots or on buildings that can’t hold heavy loads, such as sports stadiums with lightweight, retractable roofs.

The key to solar cloth’s adaptability is its lightweight nature. An approximately ten square-meter piece of the cloth weighs about 7.3 pounds, far less than a traditional, silicone-based solar panel’s weight of about 35 to 48 pounds. The material is also flexible, which allows it to be installed on most roofs, regardless of their shape.

“One of the main hindrances to solar panel adoption is that they can be difficult to install and integrate with existing architecture functionally and aesthetically,” said Hans Haenlein, adviser to The Solar Cloth Company. “Flexible solar cloth overcomes all of these problems and can add real value to existing and upcoming sites.”

Solar Cloth won the Solar U.K. Industry Awards’ Building-Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) Solar Innovation of the Year this year, an award that recognizes projects that aim to incorporate solar into the design of buildings and other structures. The company is one of many that are looking for new ways to make solar panels lighter, more flexible and easier to install on a range of building types. Researchers have created transparent solar modules that can be applied to windows, a technology that uses solar cells that are only about a quarter of the size of a grain of rice to produce energy. And First Solar, a company that specializes in extremely thin, lightweight solar films, broke a record for solar cell efficiency earlier this year.