Solar panels could soon display adverts

The MIT spin-off Sistine Solar has developed solar panels that can display any image. They can mimic home facades so they don’t stand out. But they could also conceivably be used to display advertisements.

Residential solar power in the US is on the rise as photovoltaic systems become cheaper and more efficient for homeowners. According to a 2012 study from the U.S. Department of Energy, around 1 million to 3.8 million homes will boast solar panels by 2020 – a huge leap from just 30,000 homes in 2006.

But that adoption rate could still use a boost, according to the MIT spin-off Sistine Solar. “If you look at the landscape today, less than 1 per cent of US households have gone solar, so it’s nowhere near mass adoption,” said co-founder Senthil Balasubramanian.

Sistine Solar creates custom solar panels that can mimic home facades and other environments with the aim of enticing more homeowners to install photovoltaic systems, explains MIT in a statement. But the panels could also outfitted with business logos or advertisements, opening up entirely new uses for photovoltaic panels.

Its novel technology, SolarSkin, is a layer that can be imprinted with any image and then embedded into a solar panel without interfering with the panel’s efficacy. The technology can display any colour as well as intricate patterns and actual images.

SolarSkin costs around 10 per cent more than traditional panel installations, but a homeowner can still expect to save more than USD 30,000 in energy costs over the life of the system.

Demand for its technology is on the rise. In December, the start-up installed its first residential SolarSkin panels in a 10-kilowatt system that matches a cedar pattern on a house. 200 more homes are now seeking installations, primarily in Massachusetts and California, where demand for solar panels is high.

“We think SolarSkin is going to catch on like wildfire,” Balasubramanian said. “Homeowners care a lot about aesthetics.”

But SolarSkin could appeal to more than just homeowners or businesses. Municipalities could install light-powering photovoltaic panels on highways that blend in with surrounding nature. Panels with changeable advertisements could be installed at bus shelters that double as cell phone chargers or information kiosks.

“You can start putting solar in places you typically didn’t think of before,” Balasubramanian said. “Imagination is really the only limit with this technology.”


Image credit: MIT

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