Monday, June 23, 2008

MIT Architect Develops Solar 'Curtains' for Home Applications


by Jeremy Elton Jacquot

soft house solar textiles
Image from MIT

Proving that photovoltaic materials need not always be part of large, bulky solar panels, Sheila Kennedy, principal architect at Kennedy & Violich Architecture and a lecturer at MIT, has developed solar textiles -- membrane-like surfaces that can be draped like curtains or used to cover walls or roofs -- using 3D modeling software. They work just like conventional solar cells are made of similar semiconductor materials.

Kennedy recently exhibited her project, called "Soft House" (see above picture), at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany in which she transformed typical curtains into energy-harvesting surfaces able to track the sun -- and generate up to 16,000 watt-hours of electricity.

solar soft house

Soft House prototype
All that solar energy would provide a welcome source of power for a home's solid state lighting and typical assortment of gadgets/devices -- tools, phones, laptops, etc. In addition to absorbing sunlight throughout the day, the curtains can form an insulating air layer for the building envelope; a central curtain can be lowered to create an extra room or folded upward to become a suspended chandelier.

soft house prototype
See KVA website for text/data

Though the solar technology deployed in Kennedy's Soft House, organic photovoltaics (OPV), is less efficient than conventional silicon-based technologies, Kennedy believes it could still become a commercial success. Projects like hers provide a unique outlet for the distinct benefits of this solar nanotechnology, she explains, without competing with the centralized grid. Kennedy's architecture firm plans on collaborating with urban planners and real estate developers to design site-specific Soft House pre-fab projects.

Other solar textile applications
When combined with their obvious appeal to clothing manufacturers, solar textiles could eventually make up a robust share of the booming solar market -- forming what has been dubbed the "wearable solar" industry. Avid solar enthusiasts may soon be able to cover all their home's surfaces with PV materials.

Via ::ScienceDaily: Getting Wrapped Up In Solar Textiles (news website)

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