My co-working space in Luton is in a lovely old industrial building next to the station. It has a roof that ought to be suitable for solar panels, and the owners of the building made some enquiries. Unfortunately it wasn’t strong enough to support the extra weight. Nothing to be done.
Here’s a possible solution: the flexible, lightweight solar panels produced by Sunflare. They’re the first company to successfully mass-produce flexible solar panels at an affordable price, and I’m curious to see if they catch on. The panels use a combination of materials generally referred to as CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) rather than silicon. Having built a solar panel recently, I learned how fragile silicon cells are. CIGS solar cells can be produced with very thin layers in a process that’s similar to screenprinting, making them both flexible and lightweight. The manufacturing process uses half the energy needed to produce silicon panels, so they ought to pay off their embodied carbon quicker.
A lightweight solar panel doesn’t need a frame to mount them on a roof, and Sunflare have developed a double-sided tape to stick them on instead. So yes, you can basically tape solar panels to your roof.
Lightweight panels can be added to roofs that couldn’t otherwise take the weight, including large industrial buildings or supermarkets. They can be used as cladding and fitted to walls. You can tape them to the tin roofs that are common in many parts of the world, like this installation in Ghana. It opens up new possibilities for solar power, including my own office roof – once there’s a distributor in Britain.
There are other applications too. Flexible panels can be added to cars, caravans and boats. That’s been an option for a while, but it was expensive and flexible solar panels weren’t very efficient. Sunflare claim to have solved both of those problems, so I’ll be keeping an eye on the company. More than one company has gone bust already betting on CIGS panels, including the spectacular failure of Solyndra. Will this be the time that they finally take off?
And by take off, that question applies literally too – that’s got to be some pretty strong tape.