Solar Cloth Company — Solar Cell “Cloth” Coming To Market

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Update 2017: It appears the promises made during the crowdfunding for this company were not as realistic as implied. More details and consideration of potential fraud are discusses here.

A new startup, the Solar Cloth Company, has developed a lightweight solar cell “cloth” that can be used to “cheaply” and easily harness solar energy while stretched across sports stadiums, parking lots, etc, as per recent reports.

Solar Cloth Company

The startup — which is based out of Cambridge, England — states that it is currently working to close deals that would see the solar cloth installed on over 27,000 parking lots across the UK.

The company’s founder, Perry Carroll, stated: “We have built a growing sales pipeline worth £4.2m (about $6.57 million) for 2015, including park and ride projects, airport parking operators and retail park owners.”

As per the company’s calculations, there’s around 320 square miles of roof space, and 135 square miles of parking space, in the region that could easily and cheaply be covered with the solar cloth — which could provide enough electricity to power the UK’s grid three times over. (Author’s note: Clearly these calculations don’t deal with the issues of intermittency, weather, etc.)

Some details on the solar cloth: an approximately 10 square-meter piece of the cloth weighs around 7.3 pounds, which is a lot less than conventional solar panels (35-48 lbs for the same space). The material is also quite flexible — opening the door to uses in situations where traditional panels wouldn’t be considered.

“One of the main hindrances to solar panel adoption is that they can be difficult to install and integrate with existing architecture functionally and aesthetically,” stated Hans Haenlein, adviser to The Solar Cloth Company. “Flexible solar cloth overcomes all of these problems and can add real value to existing and upcoming sites.” It seems that the cloth would overcome some functionality problems, but aesthetics are certainly more subjective.

The company appears to already have a bit of hype behind it, owing to the product’s recent winning of the Solar UK Industry Awards’ Building-Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) Solar Innovation of the Year award. The field of lightweight, flexible solar “panels” is still an emerging one, but there does seem to be quite a bit of potential there. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.

Of course, which solar power technology to use often comes down to price per estimated output. Efficiency is a key input there, and the company hypes its efficiency a bit on its website, saying that its high-efficiency CIGS technology has “10.4% to 12.6% aperture efficiency… 50% more efficient than flexible a-Si.” It also notes on the Retrofit-Solar page that it offers “30% to 40% savings in BOS & installation costs.” Here’s an interesting chart from one of the company’s documents:

BIPV chart

Overall, the company’s estimated LCOE is pretty attractive, but given some of the conventional PV prices we’ve seen lately, I’m not sure if it’s competitive for most solar PV installations. The company writes: “By 2020, the wholesale price of electricity is predicted to rise as high as 14p/kWh6, whereas our lightweight, flexible solar panels are estimated to have a Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) as low as 8p/kWh over the same period.”

The Solar Cloth Company is aiming to raise £750,000 on CrowdCube, and has so far raised £41,300.

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LCOE of Utility-Scale Solar Power Getting Really Competitive

Ascent Solar’s Flexible CIGS Solar Panels One of TIME’s 50 Best Inventions of 2011

New Flexible Solar Cell on Plastic Efficiency Record

Flexible CIGS Solar Panel Efficiency Record Set by SoloPower

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Image Credit: Solar Cloth Company

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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