Sunday, August 14, 2022

Decarbonizing the Environment with Solar Skins

With the alarming greenhouse gases concentrations in the atmosphere, the drive towards reducing carbon emissions has not been that serious. Technology and artificial intelligence have been employed heavily in trying to modify daily practices to become more environmentally friendly. The construction industry has been at the center of decarbonization endeavors with changes in building practices to create more environmentally friendly structures. Solar skins is one of the emerging technologies in that direction.

 The Rise of Photovoltaics

Solar energy has witnessed an increased an adoption for several reasons including the reduction of energy bills, and to contribute to the protection of the environment.  The energy from the Sun is absorbed by the photovoltaic (PV) cells. The incoming solar rays would induce a flow of electrons and consequently produce electricity.  Countries with limited fossil fuel resources and limited infrastructure has resorted to such technology to satisfy the needs of its population at a reasonable electricity production cost.

PV cells have been integrated into building to form what is known as building integrated photovoltaics. The aims of the new strategy include the generation of electricity and providing acoustic and thermal insulation, a practice that normally required costly material and a meticulous engineering design to fulfill the projected requirements.

The Advent of Solar Skins

Recently, a new project made the headlines in Australia at it involved the country’s first building to have a solar skin. The tower will be equipped with 1182 solar panels that will help in satisfying the building’s needs in electricity while saving around 77 tons CO2 each year. The main system produced by the German company Avancis uses thin film PV modules to generate electricity in an aesthetically pleasant way. The array of PV cells placed on the façade and rooftops will assist in reaching carbon neutrality.

This piece of news raised public interest in the field of solar skins and building integrated photovoltaics. While this building made the headlines in Australia, this approach has been applied in several cities in Europe mainly due to its reduced costs compared to traditional building techniques aiming to reach the same outcomes and given the additional appealing aesthetics it provides.

What Are Solar Skins?

Solar skins are transparent material that can surprisingly produce electricity very efficiently. The flexibility of the material makes usable for any surface type. In contrast typical PV cells need to be mounted on a flat surface and placed in a given direction to increase its efficiency. Photoelectric particles are responsible to produce the required electrical current.  The technology has been developed concurrently in different research labs at MIT in the United States and at the University of Queensland in Australia. The technology is promising excellent results while lasting for a long time. The work done at University of Queensland  has even been able to increase the efficiency of their product to around 25 percent, more than what commercial PV cells solutions are able to provide.

Where Are We Heading Next?

The advances in renewable energy research has been reshaping the landscape we are living in. The drive towards net zero carbon emissions by 2050 as per the United Nations roadmap, has been gradually fulfilled with all the individual practices and regulations being developed. While most cars will be running on clean energy resource by 2030, reducing the environmental energy bills of buildings and structures is another important step. This will also help in slowing down climate change and achieve the targets of sustainable development goal 13.

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