Swansea University, in partnership with Tata Steel, is to produce steel roofs which have the capability of converting solar energy into electrical energy. To do this, thin film spray on technology is going to be used so that a thin layer of PV cells can be added to the steel, making them generate electricity from the Sun.
This will make it easy for offices, warehouses and a wide variety of other buildings to become energy efficient, and you won’t even be able to tell from the outside. In fact in the UK there is above 4 billion sq metres of facades and roofs which have the ability to use solar panels. It would be a tall order to convert all of those, however if steel roofs begin to come with PV cells as standard, that would mean that eventually all of this kind of roof would become energy efficient.
That is still a long way off of course, but this is a positive first step. Actually, we have reported on the benefits of this spray on technology before and the variety of ways that it could be used. Another clear advantage of integrating it into steel is that it could be used on the roofs of lorries and cars as well. In fact, in an energy saving double whammy, the electrical energy produced in this way could split the hydrogen from water in a hydrogen fuel cell car. In this way, a car could be truly solar powered. Not just taking over the duties of a battery, for the radio and other electrical equipment, but actually making the car go.
Another recent report on this blog was on a plane that is to be solar powered and will be able to stay in the air for years at a time because there will be no need to refuel. The same will be potentially true for all vehicles eventually, although this will have to make commercial sense as well. This is one of the best things about solar energy at the moment though, due to all of the money which is being put into it, it is becoming more and more appealing financially. Technology is becoming cheaper and more efficient. More people are getting involved in solar energy.
Of course in Britain, where sunshine is not exactly constant or often intense, it would be natural to question how much benefit solar energy technologies can have. It is one of the reasons why Cornwall is one of the epicentres for solar energy, because it has the most sun in the UK on average. However this does not mean that the rest of the UK cannot get involved. The material which is under development at Swansea University for the steel roofs is being designed to be efficient at capturing radiation from low light conditions.
So wherever you are in the UK, you will be able to benefit from this solar energy breakthrough. It is practical solar energy research which will be able to be put into effect very soon.