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Saturday, 24 June 2017

24-07-2017- INTERESTING - Secretly Solar


An Italian company is making photovoltaic roof
tiles that perfectly mimic materials such as
terracotta, stone and wood
In historic centres and buildings throughout
Europe, obtaining permission to install a solar
photovoltaic (PV) roof can be complicated.
Aesthetic landscape constraints are often so
strict that the limitations become prohibitive,
unless the solar cells are invisible.
Hence, many have tried hiding or embedding
solar roof panels in a material that resembles
what is often used for roofing, stone paving or to
clad blind walls. Elon Musk’s Tesla, for example,
came up with a glass-layered shingle. Products
like these are more or less invisible from the
street—but from a certain height one can see the
dark cells, an unacceptable idea in places such
as the renowned Paris roofscape.
Now Dyaqua, a small family-owned company in
Vicenza, Italy, has created a product called
Invisible Solar, a PV roof tile unlike anything else
on the market. And it has sparked an immediate
boom.
Dyaqua inserts the PV cells inside a polymeric
compound that mimics common building
materials such as stone or wood so that the
solar cells are completely invisible to the human
eye.
“Since we started production a few months ago,
we can’t keep up with orders, not only from Italy,
but from France, Spain and the United States,”
said Giovanni Quagliato, a Vicenza-born artist
specialised in creating epoxy resin artwork, who
discovered the secret to giving a totally natural
look to polymeric compounds, while keeping
them transparent to light.
The compound can be transformed to look like
any building material, whether terracotta, stone,
cement or wood. It is non-toxic and recyclable,
built to withstand high static loads and resistant
to atmospheric agents and chemical solvents.
“It’s all about density: it has to be enough to fool
the eye, but not too much, so as not to block
the rays of the sun,” explained Quagliato. Years
ago, he launched a production line of LED lights
called Medea, based on the same technology. He
then went on to create PV systems with his line
Dyaqua, launched in collaboration with the Italian
National Agency for New Technologies, Energy
and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA).
“The principle is the same: in the lamps, the
light comes from the inside and must go
outwards, while in PV tiles, the rays of the sun
come from the outside and must penetrate the
transparent material and reach the solar cells,”
Quagliato explained. Applying this theory,
however, was no easy task. Achieving the ideal
concentration took years of hard work. The
prototype’s efficiency was then tested by an
independent scientific body. The tests confirmed
an impressive performance of 70 peak watts per
square meter, or about half the performance of a
classic photovoltaic module.
Invisible Solar is available on the market for 7
euros per watt, against 1-2 euros per watt for
standard PV modules. “You have to keep in mind
that these are handcrafted products, designed
specifically for historical centres: prices can
often vary from 1 to 7 euros even for regular
tiles and historic centre roof tiles,” Quagliato
noted.
For now, Dyaqua survives on the production of
LED lamps. The photovoltaic products are not
financially sustainable, because they require an
exorbitant amount of manual work. So far, there
aren’t any machines capable of replacing the
careful hand of man in applying different layers
of resin at varying densities, both above and
under the photovoltaic cells, with the right
curvature for the perfect roof tile. The creation
of flat surfaces resembling stone or cement is
simpler, but it is still a delicate task that cannot
compare to the industrial production of ordinary
tiles or solar panels.
“To accelerate production and keep up with
demand, we would have to invent machines that
integrate or replace manual work,” said
Quagliato. Only in this way can mass production
be achieved, contributing to lower prices and
increased product competitiveness with large
producers, such as Tesla’s Solar Roof.
But Dyaqua lacks the funds to invest in a
machine. Quagliato’s children, Matteo and Elisa,
launched a crowdfunding campaign on
IndieGoGo, attempting to raise USD 20,000 to
pay for one. “Invisible Solar is my dream of a
healthy world,” noted Matteo, “where technology
has the natural appearance of our landscapes.”

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