Solar panels that actually look nice

Chinese PV maker unveils semitranslucent photovoltaics that look like mirrors, windows, and skylights.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
2 min read
Solarfun Power's latest line of BIPVs are made to look like mirrors, windows, and skylights. Solarfun Power Holdings

While many green connoisseurs relish the solar panels on their homes for their eco-friendly use, many architectural connoisseurs would rather be caught dead than put the awkward-looking devices on any part of a building they're associated with.

That will change if a new line of solar panels unveiled this week in Germany proves to work as great as it looks.

Chinese PV manufacturer Solarfun Power Holdings unveiled a new line of building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) modules Thursday that resemble skylights, windows, and mirrors.

The SolarIris BIPVs were shown to the public this week at a solar conference in Germany and touted as an "aesthetically pleasing" alternative to conventional solar modules.

The SolarIris panels are built with three layers of semitranslucent glass that meet standard building specs for window and skylight glass, making them an option for use as actual skylights and windows on both residential as well as commercial properties, according to Solarfun. They could also be used as panels for greenhouses.

The BIPVs will come in a range of shapes and styles, all with a waterproof junction box buried within its panel that contains the electrics components.

Solarfun, which recently surpassed Wall Street earnings expectations, has said it plans to sell 650-megawatts worth of photovoltaic cells for 2010. It left some analysts wondering how Solarfun would do this, but perhaps SolarIris is the answer they were looking for.

Of course, there are already quite a few options on the horizon in the world of BIPVs. Pythagoras Solar by year's end plans to sell skylights that double as solar panels. In June 2009, SRS Energy and US Tile announced they were partnering to develop Solé Power Tile, a line of solar panels that resemble Mediterranean-style clay roof tiles. Arch Aluminum & Glass and Konarka announced an agreement in May 2009 that the two would develop plastic solar cells in building materials, including windows. In 2008 HelioVolt announced development of CIGS thin-film solar cells that can integrate with non-weight-bearing facades from Architectural Glass & Aluminum that could be attached to the sides of buildings.