Researchers at Swansea University are developing solar cells that can be painted right onto your roof, Science Daily reports. The photovoltaic paint is being designed to coat the steel exterior cladding, making bulky panels unnecessary. Dave Worsley, of the Materials Research Centre at the University’s School of Engineering, said the work his team has been doing for years, that of studying the effects of sunlight on exterior paint, was what ultimately led them to examine how paint might capture and store solar energy.
Worsely, working with building material manufacturer Corus Colours, has high hopes for the power-generating capabilities of the painted steel:
“Corus Colours produces around 100 million square metres of steel building cladding a year. If this was treated with the photovoltaic material, and assuming a conservative 5 percent energy conversion rate, then we could be looking at generating 4,500 gigawatts of electricity through the solar cells annually. That’s the equivalent output of roughly 50 wind farms.”
While the research is still in the early stages, the success of a preliminary study has won the project £1.5 million ($3 million) from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The British team’s technology, unlike conventional solar cells, is more efficient at capturing low light radiation, ideal for solar power collection in the UK. The goal is to eventually be able to print 30-40 square meters of solar cells per minute on flexible, steel cladding.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard wildly optimistic claims about the potential of thin-film solar from the labs. Last July researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology said they were working on printable solar cells derived from cheap, organic polymers. Lead researcher Somenath Mitra has do-it-yourself hopes for the technology:
Someday homeowners will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers. Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations.
But upstart lab groups certainly aren’t the only ones making thin-film solar strides. Silicon Valley darling Nanosolar is already printing and shipping thin-film panels. Meanwhile, startups Konarka, Miasole and HelioVolt have each raised over $100 million to fund their own thin-film ventures. With more venture funding sure to flow into thin-film research, breakthroughs like Swansea’s paint may soon be coaxed out of the lab and onto the market.
Update: The number “4,500 gigawatts” is a typo in the original release that we didn’t catch. We are getting confirmation, but it is likely supposed to read “4,500 gigawatt-hours.” To understand the scale, current global power generation is about 14,0000 gigawatts.