Solar Cloth Company

Solar Cloth Company

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.)

solar cloth company

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:

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.”

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