What Is a SolarSkin?

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Is your roof a work of art? Sistine Solar, an offshoot of Cambridge’s MIT, thinks it should be. Recently, the startup announced a brand-new innovation in solar technology: a solar panel that can be imprinted with a custom design, known as a SolarSkin. That means any homeowners who are put off by the aesthetics of traditional solar panels may soon have a whole new variety of options at their fingertips—from panels that blend into their existing roof’s surface to some decorated with the American flag! Almost any scene homeowners can dream up can be recreated on the printed panels, which means solar may be about to receive a total facelift.

solarskin on terra cotta

How Does a Solar Skin Work?

Sistine Solar won’t reveal all the details of the technology behind their solar skin, but at a high level, the panels rely on a display method known as selective light filtration. Essentially, they filter out some light waves while reflecting others, which is what makes an image appear on their surface. New innovations in color correction and visual perception allowed Sistine Solar to trick the human eye—in essence—into perceiving a lifelike design on the panels, while still absorbing the light needed to generate energy. The SolarSkin layer can also be retrofitted onto existing panels, so it may even suit homeowners who’ve already invested in solar.

How Does a SolarSkin Compare to a Typical Panel

Sistine Solar indicates that their SolarSkin panels achieve efficiency rates of about 15 to 17 percent, which is equal or even a little bit better than the average commercially available panel. High-efficiency models can reach up to 22 percent at peak conditions, but most hover between 14 to 16 percent. As far as output, Sistine Solar’s product is rated at 240 watts, which is on par with most panels on the market today. Generally, most panels are rated at between 200 to 350 watts, so they’re fairly comparable.

solarskin on cabin

Aesthetic Solar: The Next Wave of Renewable Energy

The solar industry has witnessed unprecedented growth in the past ten years. With homeowners warming to solar like never before, it looks like this technology is finally ready for the mainstream. Exact numbers vary depending on which predictions you read, but in general, most analysts agree that solar will be a major player in the energy industry by 2020.

That growth is pushing manufacturers to develop new solutions that make solar more attractive to the average homeowner. It’s no secret that solar’s current aesthetics don’t appeal to everyone: rounds of fighting between solar households and their neighborhood homeowners associations speak volumes. And although solar typically improves property values, the panels don’t blend in as seamlessly on every home. For instance, those in historic or period properties often find that the modern aesthetic that goes with the panels doesn’t match their home’s existing look.

Of course, that problem has created an opportunity for innovative companies willing to take on this issue. For instance, late in 2016, we heard about Tesla’s new solar roof, designed to match to four different roofing materials. But Sistine Solar’s products are great for the homeowner who doesn’t want to replace their entire roof. They can be paired to a wider range of materials, too. Their team has developed a massive database of common roofing patterns, so they can manufacture a product that blends in, no matter what kind of roof you have. These developments indicate that aesthetic solar may be the next move for the industry—so you can expect even more appealing options to rise in the near future.

solarskin with American flag

How Can I Purchase a Solar Skin for My Home?

If that all sounds good to you, you can get a quote from Sistine Solar on the company’s website. Generally, the company says that the panels cost around 10 percent more than an average residential installation.

Be advised, though, that the SolarSkin is still being tested at the NREL laboratories to evaluate the product’s durability and longevity. Given the investment you’ll have to make to get one, you may want to hold off until their testing wraps up. The product reportedly comes with a five-year manufacturer’s warranty and a 25-year warranty on the power generation capability. According to its website, Sistine Solar may also offer financing to certain customers, as well.

Of course, you’ll qualify for federal tax rebates and any applicable state or local incentives, as well as net metering programs from your energy provider, if they’re available. According to Sistine Solar, the energy you’ll generate can represent a savings of over $30,000. With energy options like that, solar is looking better all the time!

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