Innovation That Matters

Flexible solar cells

Flexible fabric extends solar power to temporary structures


A new method integrates flexible solar cells into canvas fabric, bringing solar power to a wider range of uses.

As solar power becomes ever-more efficient, we have seen new ways to bring solar energy systems into building, such as construction blocks that can generate electricity and a service that can allow renters to take advantage of solar energy savings. Norwegian tent cloth company Tarpon Solar AS has now partnered with Swedish solar developer Midsummer AB to add even more flexibility to solar by producing tarpaulin and canvas fabrics with solar cells integrated into the material itself. The flexible fabrics can then be used to deliver solar power to sun shades, tents and other temporary structures.

To develop the fabrics, the solar cells have been laminated into the material using an innovative new process. This process recently won first place in the Technology and Innovation Competition MTI Technology Award, a competition for new and established companies with a business concept in technology. The new material uses Midsummer’s flexible, lightweight copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) thin-film photovoltaic solar panels. Unlike most other thin film solar cells, Midsummer’s CIGS cells are made without using cadmium, a toxic material. The resulting lightweight, flexible panels produce around 120 watts of electricity per square meter. The thin solar film has very little effect on the weight of the finished canvas, which is also made stronger and more durable by the process.

Describing the new product, Tarpon Technical Manager Marius Borg-Heggedal pointed out that because each canvas is custom made, the amount and type of fiber and the layers can vary from product to product. The new solar canvas could even open up the possibility of bringing solar power generation to places where traditional solar panels cannot be easily deployed, such as restaurant sun shades or refugee housing. What other applications might there be for a fabric that can produce renewable energy?




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