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'Solar curtains' on buildings an alternative to rooftop installations

'Solar curtains' on buildings an alternative to rooftop installations

Posting in Energy

"Solar curtains" of organic solar cells are being tested on the side of a building in Florida. But are they efficient enough to compete with rooftop solar installations?

Solar cell company Konarka Technologies has partnered with Arch Aluminum & Glass to test out "solar curtains" on buildings.

The "curtain" aspect comes from the fact that the entire side of a building is covered in solar panels. The walls of panels are made from Konarka's plastic solar film and encased in glass.

The companies are conducting a pilot program on an Arch office building in Tamarac, Florida and covering the south- and east-facing walls with organic solar cells.

Organic cells use a polymer to convert light into electricity.

The cells are expected to generate 1.5 kW of power for the facility -- but the plastic cells have just 3 percent efficiency, nowhere near the 22 percent efficiency capable by the best silicon cells.

Not to mention that installation to cover the entire side of a building -- wiring, maintenance, battling gravity itself -- are likely formidable. (And what about the views? Konarka says it will test the transparent version of Power Plastic next year, which will be suitable for window structures.)

Konarka says it has produced cells in its lab that get up to 6.4 percent efficiency, but it remains to be seen how the companies will successfully commercialize the technology.

In the meantime, building-integrated photovoltaics are just one solution to retrofitting existing properties for more energy efficiency.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure