Solar power is in common domestic use as a form of renewable energy which can heat and supply power to homes.  However, with the ongoing research into new uses for solar power and modern methods of capturing the sun’s rays, more and more benefits are coming to light.  Find out how solar panels can cool and insulate your home, and see where the future of solar technology will take us next.

Solar energy

It is a common sight to see solar panels on the roofs of houses.  They are installed with the intention of capturing the energy from the sun in order to turn it into inexpensive power for heating the house or water supply, or running appliances.  However, solar panels have had other effects on some of the buildings they have been used on, and evolving technological developments ensure that the possibilities for their usefulness have certainly not run out yet.

Solar panels can provide shade

If solar panels are attached to roofs in such a way that they leave a gap between the solar sheets and the roof, this creates an air space.  As air moves between the objects, it insulates the building from the heat above.  Most of the heat is trapped and blocked by the photovoltaic panels.  They swallow up the full force of the sun, preventing the house below from absorbing it and heating up.  This is effectively a sun umbrella, but with the added advantage of being able to store and supply power to the building.  The more efficient the panels are and the more densely covered the roof is, the better the cooling effect will be because they can soak up more of the sun’s heat.

Solar insulation – pros and cons

Solar panels attached close to but not directly against the roof or walls have the effect of insulating some buildings due to the air space between the surfaces, which helps with temperature regulation.  To be properly effective, the entire roof would ideally need to be covered.

The downside is that in cold climates the panels not only take up the sun’s heat to use it for power, but they can also block the warmth that would naturally reach the roof or walls and normally raise the temperature of the building slightly.  A good environment for this type of insulation is one which is warm during the day but has cold nights, because the air space under the panels can help to retain the building’s temperature overnight.

Solar film on windows

More recently, scientists and engineers have been developing the concept of using solar cells in a transparent or translucent film which can be used over windows.  The membrane absorbs light from the invisible spectrum (ultraviolet and infrared rays), yet lets visible light pass through so the window is still functional as a light source.  The solar power that is drawn in to the cells can be used as energy, but the heat from the sun is mostly blocked from entering the house.

Dark, non-transparent solar membranes can also be used on windows where less light and visibility are needed.  This type of film can absorb visible and invisible light.  It lets the heat into the room, but blocks the visible light so that more interior lighting would be needed.

The future of solar technology

It is clear that the concept of completely transparent solar film could be applied to many surfaces, not simply windows, walls and roofs.  Computer screens, tablets and cell phones are all targets for this new technology.  A film of solar cells covering a screen could absorb infrared and ultraviolet radiation and allow the device to charge itself and maintain its own power supply.

As research advances, transparent solar cells may even show up on vehicles, sunglasses, shoes, clothes and bags.  So how long will we have to wait before we can carry our own continual power supply in our pocket, or until the sun can charge our iPod through solar cells in our hat?  Unfortunately it is still a waiting game, but rest assured – the scientific world is currently working on it and new innovations in solar technology are always just around the corner.