Thursday, July 10, 2008
A new kind of solar panel is on the horizon. It is incredibly small and can be woven into textiles like curtains and roofing materials to create a more energy-efficient home. The organic photovoltaic-laced textiles move to follow the sun and can create about 16,000 watt-hours of electricity or about half of what the average U.S. home uses in a day.
Sheila Kennedy, an architect at design firm Kennedy & Violich, is the leader behind the emerging technology, which the firm integrated into a prototype called Soft House. The Soft House is a prefab home equipped with several large, flexible curtains that soak up the sun’s energy and transform it into electricity.
In its present condition, the Soft House would still have to have another source of electricity – rooftop solar panels or the traditional power grid. The semi-transparent solar curtains are not as efficient as glass-based solar panels, but their ability to mold to any shape and blend with the surroundings is an attractive feature.
The interesting textiles don’t stop at curtains: there are also membrane-like surfaces along the roof and walls that harvest energy and transfer it to the home’s lightweight batteries for storage.
Currently, the Soft House is on display at a design museum in Germany. The emerging technology is still too costly for consumers, but shows an evolution in the way designers think about integrating energy into our homes.