Shape-Shifting Solar Cells

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The wider adoption of solar cells is largely being stalled by their cost. That’s why a lot of new research in this field has been focused on making solar cells more affordable. And now a group of engineers at MIT and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have made a breakthrough.

They’ve created a 3D printed material, which is able to change shape when heated or cooled, and then return to it’s original form on it’s own. Among the many applications of such a material it could also be used as the turning mechanism for solar cells, which would allow them to effortlessly capture more solar energy.

The 3D printed material they created is capable of remembering its original shape, and always returning to it when certain key conditions are met. In other words, it can be bent, twisted, stretched and used to build complex shapes (such as a replica of a flower or the Eiffel Tower). These structures bend and stay in the new form until they are heated to between 104 to 356 degrees Fahrenheit when the material becomes rubbery and once again assumes its original shape.

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To create these structures, they used a special 3D printing method called microstereolithography, which etches patterns onto the polymers using light as they are layered. The thinner the structure the faster it reacts to temperature changes and they are actually calling this new tech 4D printing, since the changing of shape happens across the fourth dimension of time.

Designing an effective way of combining this new tech with PV cells would make them much more efficient at harvesting solar power, as well as make it possible to use solar cells in a lot more places. More efficient solar cells would also lessen the need for large battery banks.

Tesla Announces Sleek New Solar Panels

Late last year, Tesla unveiled a range of solar panels that were actually roof tiles as well. The price was prohibitive though, since there was no way to install them on an existing roof without some expensive and time-consuming renovations. But this is no longer the case.
The company has now added a new product to their line-up: solar panels that are so sleek and thin that they will make any roof look good.

The new Tesla solar panels are to be made by Gigafactory 2, a Tesla factory located in Buffalo, New York. They will be exclusive to Tesla, and are intended to be integrated with their Powerwall energy storage units to provide an uninterrupted 24-hour a day supply of clean energy.

The mounting hardware of these new 325-watt panels is hidden, while the integrated front skirt allows them to blend with the roof on which they are installed almost seamlessly. According to Tesla, these panels not only meet but also exceed industry standards when it comes to durability and lifespan, though no data was provided to support this. According to Elecktrek, other 325-watt panels that Panasonic currently produces have an efficiency rate of 21.67%. The new Tesla panels probably have a similar efficiency, or perhaps an even slightly better one.

The company will start producing these new panels in the summer of 2017. They will be used exclusively for all future residential solar installations by the company, as well as for replacement of any other existing third party solar panel installations. No word on pricing yet, though those interested can also get a custom quote for their home via the Tesla website.

Luxury Energy Efficient Home

Often we associate sustainability with downsizing to a smaller home and thereby reducing our carbon footprint, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As MVRDV, a Holland-based firm, proves with their recently completed Casa Kwantes. The latter is a luxury home, which features a brick façade, plenty of glazing, and an array of energy efficient tech. The design of the home itself was inspired by 1930s architecture, but it features a modern twist.

Casa Kwantes measures 5,166 sq ft (480 sq m) and is a two-story family residence. It is located in Rotterdam, Holland, and the architects designed the interior layout based on the owner’s wishes and needs. The living room, dining room, kitchen and library are located on the first floor, as is the two-car garage. The living room features a long, custom made wooden unit which runs along the entire wall and provides ample amounts of storage space. On the second floor, there are two bedrooms, each with an en suite bathroom. The home also features a basement and a guest bathroom.

The back wall of the home has no windows, while the front is comprised of floor to ceiling windows, and curved, which makes for some unusually shaped rooms. The curved glazing wraps around the interior continuously, offering views into all the rooms, while the balcony allows for easy access to all the spaces. Since none of the windows face the street, only the garden, the occupants enjoy lots of privacy, while the windows also let in plenty of natural daylight.

Casa Kwantes is connected to the grid, but it also has a large solar panel array mounted on the roof. According to the designers, the system will most likely provide enough energy for the entire home, but this will be proven during the next year, since the home was only just completed a couple of months ago. The home also features a ground-source heat pump, which together with the heat exchanger provides energy-efficient heating and cooling for the home.

Tiny Off-The-Grid Home Full of Bells and Whistles

The Canadian firm Rewild Homes recently designed a cool new tiny home, which is big enough for two and features a very cozy and comfortable layout. They are calling it Blue Heron, and it can be taken off-grid if the owners so desire.

The Blue Heron rests atop a double axle 24 ft (7.3 m)-long trailer, and the interior measures 250 sq ft (23 sq m). Most of the floorspace is taken up by the lounge and a kitchen. the latter features a four-burner propane range cooker, a stainless steel fridge, a sink and plenty of cabinetry. The sitting area is fitted with a sofa and a corner unit, both of which have a storage area hidden within. Heating is provided via a Morsø wood-burning stove, while they also installed a fan/lighting unit in the lounge area for cooling and aiding ventilation. They left the fir beams exposed, which gives the tiny home character and works to make it appear more spacious.

The bathroom is separated off from the rest of the space by a sliding barn-type door. it is fitted with a composting toilet, sink, shower and a custom-made closet. The bedroom is located in a loft, which is accessible via a set of stairs with built-in storage space. The headroom in this area appears quite generous.

The Blue Heron tiny home is also fitted with a solar power harvesting system. This system is made up of 6 x 285 W solar panels, a 2.8 kW inverter, and 6 x 6 V, 460 Ah batteries. All the lighting is LED, while the home also features an on-demand propane-powered tankless water heater. There is also a hookup on the outside, which allows for connecting the propane to an outdoor barbecue.

The Blue Heron is selling for $78,000, which is quite high, though with all the off-grid features it is still quite affordable.

Recycled Shipping Container House

It’s been awhile since we reported on a cool new shipping container home, but this awesome piece of cargotecture easily makes up for that. It’s called Kin Kin Container House and it was built using a disused shipping container that was already on the property when owner Troy Walker purchased it. Most of the interior furnishings are also made from recycled materials, so it’s an all-around winner. The home is located in Kin Kin, Queensland, Australia.

The shipping container forms just half of the total living area of this home. Troy began the transformation by first cutting out one of the longer sides of the container and he used the pieces to build a bathroom. The rest of the components of the home are also salvaged or recycled and include 1970s era jalousie windows and hardwood poles, as well as a bathroom sink and a fire pit that he constructed using a stainless steel beer keg.

The home has no insulation. The interior walls are finished with plywood, with many of the steel elements left exposed. The home is also covered by a large roof which shields it from the sun and therefore keeps the interior cooler. Troy located the recycled building materials online and at local salvage yards, which he admits was a very time consuming and even costly process.

The home features elements of so-called passive design, with the overhangs letting in the sun in the winter but blocking it out in the summer. It measures 967 sq ft (90 sq m) and features a spacious open plan living, dining and kitchen area, as well as a loft bedroom that has plenty of head room and is big enough to fit a king sized bed. The loft is accessible via a ladder. The home also features a spacious bathroom with a tub, toilet and sink.

The home is fitted with a hybrid solar power system, while the place is kept airy and cool thanks to the bi-fold glass doors and louvres. There is also spacious outdoor deck.

Troy is renting out the cabin via AirBnb and a single night’s stay costs about $70.