Eyesore Solar Solutions May Soon be a Thing of the Past
Solar PV panels have a bad rep of detracting from the look of homes and businesses. They are considered an eyesore by some. Though homes still have the flexibility to mount solar PV arrays on the ground or a pole in the backyard, or on the roof of awnings, garages and other structures, businesses do not.For businesses that care about how solar panels might interfere with the appearance of their premises, they can explore a number of new solar solutions that are being developed to meet the style needs of residences and commercial establishments, while also focusing on efficiency, durability, savings and other features.
Here's a look at a few...
Solar Roof from Tesla
Last year Elon Musk announced that SolarCity had developed high-design solar roof tiles as an aesthetic option to chunky solar panels. These tiles would tie into the company's wall-mounted battery during times of low sunlight. The tiles mimic the look of French slates, Tuscan shingles, conventional black asphalt shingles or curved clay shingles, offering a mix of smooth and textured surfaces.
The tiles will consist of a photovoltaic substrate covered by glass. Musk also claims that Solar Roof tiles will provide better insulation, last longer, and have an installed cost less than that for a normal roof plus electricity costs. Though some of these claims can be confirmed once the tiles enter the market, they do offer the look and feel of high-end roofing products. The resemblance to slate and terra cotta offers a premium appeal, which makes you wonder how much they may finally retail for when they go on sale in July this year.
There is still no clarity about the actual costs of Solar Roof. Musk has said that it will be cheaper than regular roofing, though even approximate numbers haven't yet been provided.
Transparent photovoltaic cells
SolarWindow Technologies has come out with a revolutionary transparent solar panel that the company claims transforms windows into photovoltaics. When applied to a 50 story building, the panels can produce up to 50 times the electrical energy of traditional rooftop panels. You don't have to entirely replace the windows of your home, only treat them with a proprietary process.
As part of the process, liquid coatings are applied to glass and plastic coatings at ambient pressure, and the coatings are then left to dry at a low temperature to develop transparent films. This is repeated, and together, the coatings, glass and plastic surfaces produce electricity.
In 2014, scientists from Michigan State University showcased a fully transparent solar concentrator through which visible light can pass, and whose organic molecules move infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths to the edges of the glass. Here, tiny photovoltaic cells convert these radiations to electricity. However, more work is needed on the prototype, which has a conversion efficiency of 1% versus the 20%-25% efficiency of conventional solar panels.
New designs in solar energy systems
Solar energy companies in other countries have launched sleek heating systems, some of which apply a unique mechanism to heat air and water. SolTech Energy's tiles are made of glass and installed atop black fabric that absorbs sunlight. The air slots under the fabric heat clean air, and the warm air heats up the water. The tiles weigh the same as typical roof tiles and generate 350kWh of heat per square meter. Pythagoras Solar has come come up with a photovoltaic glass unit (PVGU), a transparent solar panel that uses monocrystalline PV cells for generating power for buildings. The photovoltaic strips collect the sunlight, while visible light diffuses through the windows. These solar windows have been installed on Chicago's Sears Tower.
Monier's solar tiles integrate with existing roof tiles without the need to be bolted on top of traditional roof tiles. The tiles strike a balance between preserving the look of buildings and helping achieve energy savings. This energy system offers a power output of 120 Wp per square meter. Some, like Tractile, use interlocking tiles that are quite lightweight compared to concrete roof tiles.
Thinking beyond beauty
Solar panels are an energy-efficient solution for not just Fortune 500 companies but also small and medium-sized businesses, which have the opportunity to make the most of the financial incentives available for solar installations. According to EnergySage, businesses with solar systems offset their energy usage by 75%, amounting to monthly savings of slightly over $1,400. Businesses break even on their solar panel systems within three to seven years, and the system itself can last them anywhere from 25 to 35 years.
Over the years, the costs of installing solar panels have fallen, and with electricity prices remaining quite high, the move to solar does make practical sense. There is another cost benefit : you can deduct 85% of the cost of the system from your taxes, which will help you further save money on the purchase cost of a system array. While some states have solar renewable energy certificates, New York offers the NY-Sun Incentive Program that provides financial incentives aimed at lowering the installation costs related to solar electric systems. The industrial and commercial incentive applies to systems larger than 200kW for all locations in NY State other than Long Island, as well as not-for-profit organizations and government buildings with systems of up to 200kW.
There was also the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC), where home and business owners purchasing a new solar system were eligible for a federal tax credit amounting to 30% of the cost of the system. However, it expired starting 2017, and there is no news of whether Congress plans to extend the tax credit.
Last year, solar became the leading new energy source in the United States, with new installations doubling to 14,600 megawatts of capacity. It made up almost 40% of new power arriving to a grid, surpassing coal, wind and natural gas. Solar farms made the biggest contribution, generating over 1 megawatt in large-scale production. In all, 22 states each added over 100 megawatts of capacity. California continues to be the hub of solar and other forms of renewable energy.