Solar panels, devices that convert light to electricity, have been around for a long time and many people have worked on using them to produce useful amounts of electrical power for various applications, including running the lights and/or heating in buildings. Until recently, however, the problem with solar panels has been their high cost. This is because the manufacture of traditional solar panels uses some rather expensive materials. As a result, the panels have typically been used when no other source of electrical power was available, or simply as an experiment or concept demonstration. Recently, solar panels have been developed that are made mostly of plastic; in fact they are 98% plastic. For this reason, they are much cheaper to make than the solar panels of the past.
Because the new plastic solar panels are cheap, it would be economically feasible to use them in larger quantities. Why couldn’t the designer cover an entire building with them? Such a large area would certainly gather a great deal of energy. This would be further enhanced by the fact that the new panels, as reported by treehugger.com, gather “a record-breaking 96% of incident light.” Such a system should be capable of supplying a significant portion of a building’s energy needs.
A traditional objection to solar panels, besides their cost, has been the fact that they are not particularly rugged because the materials of which they are made are rigid and brittle. It would seem that a solar panel made primarily of plastic would be much less brittle, and therefore much more rugged. This would seem to make them very suitable for use on the outside of a building.
When people think about solar power for a building, one of the first things that comes to mind is using the electricity to power the lighting. This is a bit of a contradiction, since lighting is actually less important when the sun is shining – unless, of course, the building has no windows. But in reality, the power generated by the solar panels could be used to power elevators, heating systems, office equipment, etc. These uses actually increase when people are at work – during the day – when the sun is more likely to be shining.