For what is believed to be the first time in the southern U.S., “peel and stick” solar laminates have helped a new house achieve official Passive House certification, meaning that the structure is designed to use 90% less energy than a conventional home. The laminates were manufactured by Whirlwind Solar, a division of Whirlwind Steel Buildings, Inc., a 1950’s-era manufacturer of metal buildings that has reinvented itself to take advantage of the emerging green economy.
With four factories in Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Minnesota, Whirlwind is among the largest manufacturers of metal buildings in the U.S., so it’s perfectly positioned to leverage its expertise in metal-based construction into the mass market introduction of solar-laminated roofing, with a consequent growth in green jobs in the U.S.A., too.
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Cheaper, Easier Solar Power
Whirlwind Solar’s laminate system consists of panels that fit between the ridges of conventional metal roofing systems (a familiar sight if you’ve ever taken a drive through the Southeastern U.S.). They literally stick to the metal roof, and are then connected to an inverter that converts DC current from the panels into AC current that can be used to power the home. The lightweight panels use amorphous silicon solar cells that absorb blue, green, and red sunlight in different layers (amorphous silicon is a flexible form of silicon which can be deposited in a thin film). Crystalline solar cells are more efficient at capturing energy from the sun, but they are more expensive and require precise positioning in order to achieve maximum efficiency. The amorphous panels do not have to be positioned perfectly in order to operate effectively, which means that they would lend themselves more easily to retrofits and other building conditions where it would be uneconomical to orient a structure around its maximum solar potential.
Passive House and Solar Laminates
Whirlwind solar’s laminate system was applied to the home in partnership with Corey Saft, a University of Louisiana architecture professor, and H.J. Construction, a company started by former student Jaron Young. Aside from achieving Passive House certification, the house is also going for LEED platinum status. The solar laminates are only one element in a comprehensive building-integrated system for conserving energy. The home’s specially designed insulation mimics that of a thermos, to cut down on the need for air conditioning in the hot, humid south. Other features include a high efficiency air conditioning system, an energy recovery ventilator, an air-to-water heat pump, and a rain-screen system that shades the house. Although the integration of the various systems involved a new level of design expertise, the actual equipment and materials are all standard and easily available to contractors or dedicated do-it-yourselfers.
Solar Laminates and Living off the Grid
The ease and flexibility of solar laminates adds yet another item to the off-grid toolkit. Once thought of as a fringe movement, the off-grid lifestyle is rapidly slipping into the mainstream. It’s a system of great interest not only to home owners but also to businesses looking to cut costs and increase the reliability and price-predictability of their energy supply. Even the U.S. military has adopted off-grid as a goal for its facilities, in the interests of energy security and independence.
Image: Toy house by Mr. Conguito on flickr.com.