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Focus on OPV, a flexible and versatile energy solution

12/06/2019 Focus on

Silicon panels or organic films (OPV)?

There are a variety of photovoltaic technologies in existence, but the best known among them is the rigid solar panel typically installed at solar plants and on the roofs of homes and other buildings. This technology was the first generation developed, and the photovoltaic cells are made from a transformed mineral: silicon.

This was followed by a second generation, this time composed of amorphous silicon made from fine layers of the mineral, giving the technology greater flexibility.

The third and latest generation on the market, is, by contrast, polymer-based, and therefore silicon-free. Organic photovoltaics (OPV) is a technology where the formulation is coated in fine layers to make it very flexible, lightweight and semi-transparent. So which of these 3 different technologies should you choose?

How do you find out which photovoltaic technology is right for your project?

Although there are a number of differences, we can observe certain complementarities in the applicational environment. It is important to understand that the materials and components vary by photovoltaic solution, as do their properties and uses.

Rigid silicon solar panels

These first generation panels offer the advantage of a high energy yield and a certain robustness in exterior applications. Due to their mineral composition, they unfortunately have a considerable environmental impact, in addition to being rigid and heavy. These panels are therefore only suitable for flat surfaces able to bear a certain weight, which limits their use in many cases.

Flexible silicon solar panels

The second generation panels of amorphous silicon are made of cells deposited in fine layers. This makes them much thinner than rigid panels and provides relative flexibility, well suited to small solar devices, for example, and other applications, including construction.

Flexible and semi-transparent solar films based on organic polymers

Unlike all the others, photovoltaic technologies based on organic polymers offer the advantage of their low-carbon and very low-energy production process. In addition, their impact on natural resources is minimal as a low volume of raw materials is required to produce them. In practice, extremely fine layers of polymers are deposited on thin films, where the advantage of this process is ease of integration into applications thanks to their being lightweight, thin and semi-transparent.

What role does the substrate play when selecting a solar technology?

To install rigid photovoltaic panels, the right substrate materials are mainly those found in buildings, such as concrete, heavy metal structures and wood. In addition to its ability to be applied to the same substrates, however, OPV offers greater versatility. It provides much greater conformability to curved structures and to flexible, lightweight or low bearing capacity materials.

The materials which are especially well suited to integrating OPV films include everyday materials such as textiles and paper, but also those typically present in buildings, such as:

  • polycarbonate,
  • glass,
  • metal,
  • ETFE,
  • wood,
  • concrete,
  • composites.

Furthermore, the use of OPV is widely recommended to solarize anything that might be considered as part of the “building’s outer fabric”. This includes elements such as roofs, facades, shading structures and guardrails.

Combining the solar technologies to exploit all the surfaces of an application

Ultimately, we see that solar energy has significantly expanded its applicational fields thanks to the development of OPV. But although it is tempting to think that each technology has its own specific applications, we can also imagine a degree of complementarity, combining the technologies in a single application. Why not, for example, imagine equipping a house with rigid panels on its roof and OPV film on glazed areas (windows, conservatories, etc.)?

As we know, rigid solar panels require highly robust substrates and a flat surface. For such applications, therefore, only the parts that meet these criteria can be covered with solar panels. OPV film, on the other hand, represents the ideal solution to circumvent all the drawbacks of the solar panel where the requirement is to solarize:

  • glazing,
  • greenhouses,
  • designer and aesthetic surfaces of certain architectural projects,
  • mobile solutions in the military, sport and telephony,
  • indoor connected objects in the fields of home automation and toys (to replace batteries).

Did you know?

Photovoltaic energy is not an invention of the early 21st century! In 1954, Bell Laboratories was already experimenting with certain domestic appliances powered by a solar cell. The Vanguard satellite was then the first to be powered by photovoltaic panels in 1958. During the 1960s, the use of solar panels for space applications became widespread, with terrestrial and maritime applications following suit in the early 1970s. Experiments in the first self-sufficient building began in 1974. The performance was spectacular for the times!

Interview with Moïra Asses, Marketing & Business Development Manager

Moïra is responsible for promoting, developing and marketing ASCA® organic photovoltaic film technology, a solar film designed and produced by the industrial group ARMOR, based near Nantes.

Are you focusing on any specific application field?

“Our application fields are very diverse. With our solar films we equip buildings with fragile or lightweight roofs, facades, cladding and metallic-textile structures… as well as accessories in the luggage and street furniture sectors! The strength of ASCA® photovoltaic film is its limitless versatility for all applications. Some of our customers are striving to make their applications independent of the electricity grid. Others above all see the benefits of solarizing exploitable surfaces to make them “active”, i.e. producing energy. Whatever their requirements, our customers immediately understand the merits of our ASCA® technology and of our collaboration to equip their products, providing their project with a new dimension.”

How do you equip your application with an ASCA® film? What support do you offer your customers to ensure that your film is effectively integrated into their project?

Integrating the ASCA® film is relatively simple given the complexity of installing a solar panel, but everything obviously depends on the application and intended use. For example, equipping a luggage accessory consists of sewing in the solar film, almost like any other component, but you then need to add a suitable connector and storage solution in order to exploit the energy produced. ASCA® is a lightweight technology that is therefore easy to manipulate and, once its overall integration process has been defined and mastered, it is integrated within the internal manufacturing processes of our customers’ products. We are able to support our customers at all stages of their projects through our internal design and engineering department – ASCA® Solutions Lab – until the product is launched on the market.”

The expert’s view: Nicolas Vannieuwenhuyse, Design & Engineering Manager at ARMOR

Nicolas heads the ASCA® Solutions Lab and supervises projects to integrate the ASCA® film.

“The Design & Engineering Department is composed of multi-disciplinary competences (mechanical engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, design, and materials science) that are fully available to support the projects entrusted to us. In order to effectively support our customers’ integration projects, whatever their applications or needs, we offer them our full range of know-how and experience. We support start-ups as well as large groups. In total, nearly 200 professionals have already called on our expertise to examine their project and provide answers and bespoke solutions. For every project we support, our mission is to help our customers go the extra mile in terms of development and of improving the energy efficiency of their applications depending on their intended use by the users or by our customers. We offer them the possibility of working on a co-development basis to produce innovative solutions. Finally, we make a network of partners available to them, all selected by us to facilitate the industrialization and market launch of their products.”

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