INSIGHTS / SOLAR ENERGY

”In the future, it will be a no-brainer to replace traditional building materials with building-integrated solar cells”

ANNA SVENSSON
On how to challenge the fact that about 96% of the solar cells are black
May 03, 2022

If we could meet all the solar energy that hits the earth’s surface for two hours, we could supply the entire earth’s energy needs for an entire year. So, it’s no surprise that Anna Svensson, chief innovation officer at Soltech and Swedish representative at the International Energy Agency for Building Integrated Solar Solutions, is positive.

— More and more people are realizing the great potential for solar energy. And, the technology is only getting better and better, which means that we can assimilate more solar energy in the global energy mix with each passing day, she says.

Soltech Energy is a solar energy group in Sweden and the Netherlands consisting of about 20 companies, offering solar energy solutions for all types of properties and large-scale solar parks. Beyond the solar companies, it also acquires companies in the roof, façade, and electrical engineering industries and transforms these companies into solar companies which also will be able to offer solar energy services. 

— For instance, a roofing company that has been doing just roofing for 30-40 years will suddenly be able to expand its product range with solar energy, in addition to its basic competence. The acquired companies receive solar energy expertise, and in return, we receive their core expertise, which is important for being able to carry out high-quality solar energy installations on, for example, roofs or the façade. Our subsidiaries also develop various types of solutions for building-integrated solar energy solutions, such as large solar cell façades, smart control, and storage of solar energy, says Svensson.

When looking at solar cells, they’re most often black. Why is that?

— The main reason is that the largest manufacturers on the market produce black solar cells and it was also the technology that gained momentum first. These ’black’ cells, called silicon solar cells, today make up about 96% of the market. The large production volumes also contribute to low prices. Even though they’re dominant, there are also a plenty of other solar cells, in several different shapes and colours. These allow for aesthetic solar cell solutions where you do not want to use black standard panels, which in turn means that solar energy is applied to more surfaces than before, Svensson explains. She continues:

— When we work with these different kinds, we are simply creating new opportunities for integrating solar energy into properties. In one of the cases, it did not fit with a roof-placed standard solar cell system on the roof of a parking garage. We then pointed out to the property owner that you can use the façade. This property owner then wanted a colourful façade because the area where the property is in has historically been home to the textile and pattern industry and foremost the textile artist Viola Gråsten. Therefore, we designed a building-integrated colourful semi-transparent solar cell façade, bringing thoughts back to the area’s history and to Gråsten’s design style. At the same time, we helped the property owner with a green energy solution for the car park’s 300 charging posts.

The project Mölnlycke Fabriker by Soltech.
On the inside.
Anna Svensson.

Can you share any predictions on the future of solar technology?

— We see several clear trends. The industry has realized that you must start locally and how we can create smart properties that produce and use their own energy in an optimized way is a frequently asked question. To find out, I think we will see solar energy on many more different surfaces in the future, such as façades. In the future, I believe that solar cell façades will be as common as roof-mounted solar cells because we must use all possible surfaces to meet the electricity needs of the future. I also strongly believe that solar cells will be an obvious choice as part of the buildings, and in the future, it will be a no-brainer to replace traditional building materials with building-integrated solar cells, says Svensson. She adds:

— Tomorrow’s properties will also create new demands as our energy needs change. For instance, people will expect to be able to charge their electric car during the working day instead of having to go to the gas station or a public charging station and do so after working hours. Something that will also grow is the way we share solar energy between different properties. A house that has good conditions for solar energy should be able to share the energy with the neighbouring property, which, for example, is in the shade, in a simple way. If we build large enough areas with houses that can produce solar energy, it can also relieve the electricity grid.

Where are we five years from you?

– If we go back five years, an incredible amount has happened in the solar energy industry, from the fact that’s solar energy was something that a few engineers had on their roof to that in 2021 in Sweden, about 26,540 different solar cell solutions were installed with a total power of 500 MW. Everything from residential roofs to large solar parks. Despite the rapid growth, we see that the ’boom’ will continue to grow. With a growing electricity demand, high electricity prices, climate change, electrification of the society, and the transition from fossil fuels to renewable, there is much to suggest that the need for solar energy will continue to increase.

— We’re currently in the middle of an innovation collaboration with Skanska on how we can connect our respective core competencies to develop tomorrow’s smart and sustainable properties. The innovation collaboration touches on everything from solar cell solutions to charging and storage options, Svensson concludes.

Project in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.
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