Solar panels are great, but would like to see them on the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, or the Grand Canyon? Of course not. That would be silly. Yet many such historic places could use some emissions-free energy, especially if they are in remote locations. Utility lines and towers are not so photogenic either. Is there an answer to this dilemma? Yes there is — Invisible Solar from Dyaqua, a family-owned business in Italy.
Each year, more than 3.5 million tourists visit Pompeii to admire the ruins left by the eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 AD. Gabriel Zuchtriegel, Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, tells Alpha Galileo he and his team were looking for a way to lower their utility bills without affecting the appearance of the city.
“Pompeii is an ancient city which in some spots is fully preserved. Since we needed an extensive lightning system, we could either keep consuming energy, leaving poles and cables around and disfiguring the landscape, or choose to respect it and save millions of euros.” They turned to Dyaqua for help. The company manufactures solar panels that look exactly like natural materials — in this case, the terracotta tiles used by the Romans on the roof of the House of Cerere.
Invisible Solar Tiles
“It is me, my father, my mother, and my brother,” says Elisabetta Quagliato. “Since photovoltaic production is increasing, we are expanding and now have two employees.” The idea came from her father, Giovanni Battista, who made a business out of his hobby of plastics and electricity. “He wanted to solve the problem of spotlights in public areas, which spoil the view once they are switched off,” she says.
The Invisible Solar tiles are made from a polymer compound which allows the sun’s rays to filter through. The photovoltaic cells are then integrated into it by hand and covered with a layer of the polymer compound. “We can also give it the look of stone, wood, concrete, and brick. As a result, such a solution can be installed not only on roofs but also on walls and floors,” Quagliato says.
Zuchtriegel adds, “The invisible photovoltaics not only helps us cut our energy bills, they also makes our archaeological park more enjoyable. This is just the beginning. From now on, we will be taking this solution into account for all future renovation and restoration projects. The traditional PV tiles were also installed in the Thermopolis and recently in the House of the Vettii. “We are an archaeological site but we also want to be a real life lab for sustainability and adding value to our intangible heritage. Our initiative is not merely symbolic. Through the million tourists who visit us every year, we want to send a message to the World — cultural heritage can be managed differently and in a more sustainable way.”
Invisible Solar Comes To Other European Cities
Dyaqua’s Invisible Solar clients include many local councils that own assets subject to artistic or architectural constraints. Approved by the Italian Ministry of Culture, the traditional PV tiles have been also installed in Vicoforte, not far from Cuneo, and will soon be used in Maxxi, the renowned Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome In the coming months, they will also cover the roofs of some public buildings in Split, Croatia, and Evora, Portugal.
Together with Alkmaar, in the Netherlands, that Portuguese city is one of the sites that are testing innovative solutions aimed at combining sustainability with preserving architectural and cultural heritage in conjunction. “Evora is a beautiful city, on the top of a hill, facing south,” says its Research and Development Manager, Graziano Peterle. “Since it’s not flat, wherever you are, you can basically see every single roof of the city. Most of them are red or terracotta but since the photovoltaic panels are usually dark blue or black, they do not go unnoticed. This is why the municipality insisted on implementing an invisible solution.”
The only way to disguise conventional solar panels would have been to paint them — not the best solution. That’s why Dyaqua was contacted. The technology that will be used on these sites is called Tegosolar. “Unlike conventional photovoltaic panels, which are external elements, our solution consists of a proper roofing material,” he explains. A few years ago, the Italian government established subsidies for the installation of photovoltaic systems. However, the incentives were greater for solutions that were integrated into the roofs, hence the idea of developing a walkable, completely flat solution. “Tegosolar has an aesthetic benefit because it doesn’t protrude from the roof and it is invisible from the road. It is also safer because it resists strong winds and is less sensitive to the direction of the sun.”
Solutions like Tegosolar and Invisible Solar tiles are crucial for matching sustainability with conservation, protection, and enhancement of heritage. “One key aspect is to look at the cultural sites, ancient buildings, and historic cities not as obstacles, but as assets for reducing our carbon emissions,” says Francesca Giliberto, an architect specialized in conservation and management and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds. “The very challenge not to damage historic buildings for contemporary purposes is to use the most innovative solutions, respecting their value and cultural heritage.”
The role of culture and heritage in sustainable development was officially recognized by the 2030 Agenda, adopted in 2015 by the United Nations. However, of its 169 goals, just one acknowledges the role of culture in development processes. “It is modest progress, and there is still a long way to go,” says Giliberto. “But in the past 5 years the potential of culture and heritage has been widely highlighted by UNESCO, and other international organizations. Now it’s up to policymakers and urban planners to start thinking differently. They must understand that as heritage professionals, they can make a huge contribution to sustainable development.”
With the success of the architectural soar panels from Dyaqua in Pompeii, solar panels that look like traditional building materials are being considered for use in other historic cities in Europe such as Bari in Italy, Ioannina in Greece, Granada in Spain, Celje in Slovenia, Hvidovre in Denmark, and Újpest in Hungary.
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