what is solar concrete

What Is Solar Concrete?

What is solar concrete?

Image by sl-f via iStock by Getty Images

The solar market is booming, and it’s expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. Solar is one of the most heavily used renewable energy sources, as it offers plenty of benefits to both residents and businesses in a community.

Solar power technologies convert sunlight into energy through photovoltaic (PV) panels. They can also use mirrors that concentrate solar radiation for energy conversion. This energy is often used to power homes, commercial buildings, stadiums, and farms.

Because the market for solar is expanding, it’s only natural the solar technologies themselves will continue to evolve. That includes new digital technologies, as well as materials research and development. Solar concrete, also called photovoltaic concrete, is one of the newest of these.

Below is a comprehensive guide to solar concrete, its benefits, how it works, and a cost rundown. Additionally, we’ll cover some alternate solar technologies, such as solar roofing, tiles, and panels, you can use to benefit your household and the environment.

What Is Solar Concrete and How Does It Work?

Two main barriers preventing more widespread solar adoption are the aesthetics and the price of solar panels. In other words, the look of solar panels and the costs associated with adopting them are two obstacles the industry faces when attracting new customers.

While these barriers need to be addressed, they won’t stop the solar industry from growing. Recent studies show the solar industry has already added 260,000 jobs to the American workforce.

However, to overcome the look and price challenges of solar panels, researchers are looking into creating PV iterations that are more aesthetically pleasing and affordable. This is where solar concrete comes into play.

Solar concrete is a new kind of concrete made to generate its own electricity by converting sunlight into energy. For the conversion to happen, the technology uses a process called semiconducting, which is very similar to how solar panels convert sunlight to energy.

Below, we’ll discuss two recent developments that may push solar concrete to the forefront of sustainable architecture.

LafargeHolcim and Heliatek Partner to Create a Solar Concrete Project

Solar concrete was first introduced in 2017 at the French construction fair, Batimat. LafargeHolcim, a Swiss building materials company, and Heliatek, a German solar panel company, were the two companies to introduce a new type of concrete capable of producing electricity.

The project focused on developing a PV cladding consisting of LafargeHolcim’s concrete and a layer of Heliatek’s Heliafilm, which is a thick yet flexible 1mm solar film. 

According to LafargeHolcim, the PV cladding, if installed, allows buildings to generate double the amount of energy compared to traditional PV panels — the solar concrete used in this project could turn buildings into power stations. 

In another project, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) used this innovative type of concrete to make an ultra-thin prototype roof to incorporate into the school’s living lab facility, called NEST. The result was a building that generated more power than it consumed.

The prototype was 7.5 meters high and had a curved surface area of 160 square meters. It was made from several layers of concrete. The innermost layer also had heating and cooling coils, as well as insulation inside. Thin PV cells were then placed on top to harvest the sun’s energy.

Researchers ended up dismantling the prototype, as it will be used next year on the HiLo apartment building, which is a part of the NEST project.

The Cost of Solar Concrete: Still Unclear

Because solar concrete is still an emerging technology, it’s uncertain how much a homeowner would pay to have it installed. Until the tech is fully developed, and more homeowners begin to adopt it, the price will vary depending on different factors.

In the ETH Zurich project described above, a net constructed from steel cables covered with polymer textile was used to create the building’s unique roof shape.

The solar concrete adhered to the form more easily, and it was found it made the project notably cheaper, in regards to the cost of materials used in the construction. In other words, this project showed leveraging solar concrete in the future has the potential to reduce traditional costs associated with construction.

Generally speaking, the more widely solar concrete is used, the more affordable it will become for homeowners to adopt. This shows solar concrete has a promising future.

Benefits of Solar Concrete

The most obvious benefit of solar concrete is providing significant cost savings. There’s no doubt energy costs are rising, which may fuel growth for solar concrete adoption in the future.

Another benefit of solar concrete is it improves the carbon dioxide balance in the atmosphere. Many countries agree reducing our carbon dioxide footprint is necessary, especially as we see the negative effects of global warming and climate change around us.

Policy changes, such as the Paris Agreement, are also necessary to combat these negative effects. Some governments have decided to incentivize solar panel adoption in an effort to increase adoption rates amongst homeowners.

One final benefit of solar concrete is it can still generate power even with overcast skies. The solar cells in solar concrete still work at full capacity with only a limited amount of sun overhead. Solar concrete has a 10-20% yield advantage compared to traditional solar iterations.

What Are Alternative Solar Roofing Options?

Because solar concrete is not widely used in the energy industry as of now, you may still be wondering what types of solar roofing options are available to you. More people are looking to live more sustainably, and solar roofing is a great way to reduce your household’s carbon footprint, save on energy bills, and harvest energy to power your home.

Let’s review alternative solar roofing options you can implement in your home to reap the benefits solar power provides.

Solar Panels

Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular among homeowners, and for good reason. Solar panels can increase a home’s property value and lead to cost-savings on energy bills. Solar panels are effective even in locations where sunlight is limited.

To install solar panels on their roof, most homeowners will pay between $17,278 and $32,650, but the potential long-term savings can often offset this cost and make it a worthwhile investment.

For more information regarding solar panels for your home, consider visiting the Department of Energy’s Homeowner’s Guide to Going Solar online.

Solar Shingles/Roof Tiles

Solar shingles, also called solar roof tiles, are ultra-thin PV sheets that overlay or replace the entire roof. They work similarly to solar panels and solar concrete — solar shingles absorb sunlight and convert it to energy. They are also durable enough to withstand extreme weather conditions, just like traditional roofing shingles.

The main difference between solar tiles and panels is tiles are often credited with having a natural look, whereas solar panels are clunky and take up most of your roof. They both add to your home’s value, however.

There are some other differences between the two types of solar technologies, including:

  • Solar shingles are generally more expensive.
  • Solar shingles are becoming a crowd favorite due to their visual appeal and versatility.
  • Solar panels are more energy efficient.
  • Solar panels take much longer to install than shingles.
  • Solar panels can be removed and taken with you if you move to a new home.

Suppose you’re not sold on purchasing solar concrete (as it’s not widely available), solar shingles, or solar panels. In this case, a community solar program is one final alternative to help reduce your carbon footprint.

Community Solar Programs

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a community solar program within a community allows homeowners, small businesses, and renters to gain equal access to solar energy. Community solar programs are put in place because community leaders believe solar power should be for everyone, regardless of property ownership or physical attributes.

According to SEIA data, 41 states, plus Washington, D.C., have at least one community solar project running. If installing solar technology is too costly for you, joining a community solar program can help you access the savings and benefits of solar power without breaking the bank.

Making the Decision to Go Solar

It may feel overwhelming to start your journey to adopting solar for your home. However, the market is expanding rapidly, and now may be the best time to go solar. While it is expensive upfront, think about the cost savings you’ll benefit from when you see solar is powering your home.

In addition, there are some government incentives and rebates to take advantage of when installing solar, which can make it more affordable and worth the investment. Consider which solar technology is most worth investing in — there’s at least one option listed above that will fit your budget and needs.

Solar Energy: Powering Our Future

While PV adoption rates are increasing worldwide, solar adopters are looking to improve the solar technologies that will hopefully power our world soon.

One development you’ll see can significantly impact the solar industry is solar concrete, also known as photovoltaic concrete. While PV concrete is still under development, it will likely boom in the future, increasing sales opportunities for companies specializing in solar concrete installations.

It’ll be fascinating to see how solar continues to benefit our environment and how many homeowners decide to make the switch to go solar.

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