Building-Integrated Solar Power Benefitting the Less Well-Off Families

The prices of thin-film photovoltaic modules have been dramatically reduced during the last few years. They are now rapidly approaching the prices of conventional solar panels based on crystalline silicon. One of the most important benefits from the rise of the thin-film modules is that some of them, especially the so called CIGS photovoltaic panels (copper indium gallium selenide) are much less vulnerable to overheating than the “old-fashioned” crystalline silicon panels. This means that they can simply be glued on many kinds of roofs or walls, which greatly reduces the installation costs. One person can install four kilowatts of this kind of solar modules in one hour. Aluminum frames and rails other relatively complex and expensive support structures are no longer needed. Above all, CIGS panels can easily be integrated into various kinds of construction elements. In the near future façade coverings that can produce solar electricity will compete with other products used for the same purpose. Construction elements covered by thin-film photovoltaic panels are already cheaper than marble or granite, and might soon be able to compete with most other alternatives, as well. If you can acquire an electricity-generating outer skin for your building for a price that is equivalent or even lower than the price of a more conventional solution, you of course save a lot of money. In already existing buildings flexible thin-film solar modules may soon become an alternative for re-painting a roof or for replacing its steel plate or brick cover. In cold climates existing buildings may be retro-insulated from the outside with elements consisting of a few centimeters of silica aerogel and thin-film photovoltaic modules glued on top of it. This would minimize the need of energy for heating or cooling the buildings: one centimeter of silica aerogel is equivalent to twelve centimeters of glass wool, as a heat insulation material. The final goal should perhaps be that retro-fitting the combined heat insulation-thin-film photovoltaic elements should not cost more than a conventional overhaul. Building-integrated photovoltaics will soon be a very big thing in construction, part of the mainstream of one of the world’s largest areas of economic activity. However, for a long time to come, such possibilities will only be affordable for upper and middle class families. Could the second solar power revolution, based on building-integrated thin-film photovoltaics, also be made to benefit the less well-off households? How can this be done? The poor families live in much simpler and smaller houses than the rich. Would it be possible to use conventional or thin-film photovoltaic panels as their roofing material, instead of bricks, steel plate or reeds? Conventional solar panels may soon become almost as cheap or possibly even cheaper than steel plate or bricks used in foofs, square meter for square meter, so if the whole roof can consist of solar panels, the poor could get some solar power practically free of cost, this way. We need ideas, designs, experiments, pilot projects!