Concrete That Generates Its Own Solar Power

A team of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed an ultra-thin concrete roof that can generate its own solar power.

The curved roof technology is made up of multiple layers, including an inner sheet of concrete, heating and cooling coils, and an incredibly thin layer of photovoltaic cells, which harvest solar energy.

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The initial prototype for this innovative roof was only around 7.5m high, but it had a total surface area of 160sq metres, thanks to the unique curvature of the design which helps even a small roof, made using this system, to harvest as much of the sun’s energy as possible.

Now that the prototype has been hailed a success, a fully functional version of the same design is to be used as the roof for a real apartment building which is part of the NEST project, a living lab building in Dübendorf, near Zurich. The energy-harvesting concrete roof will be showcased next year, alongside other intelligent and adaptive building systems also developed at the school.

The project itself took four years from beginning to end, largely because of the complexity of the process. However, it’s expected that it will only take eight to ten weeks to reassemble it at the NEST building next year.

In addition to the energy generating properties of the roof material, the innovative design also uses cheaper materials than many concrete roofs. Instead of using non-reusable materials like milled foam or timber to provide the roof ‘template’ on which the concrete would be sprayed, the team created a net with steel cables. This net was then covered with a polymer textile, giving the sprayed concrete a surface to adhere to.

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Solar roof projects are, of course, nothing new. Millions of homes all over the world already have simple solar panels fitted. But as things progress, more advanced designs, with the solar technology embedded within the building material itself, are coming to the fore.

Perhaps the most famous is Tesla’s solar roof project, which starts shipping at the end of this year. Remarkably, Tesla is so confident in the quality of its solar roof system, that it promises an ‘infinity guarantee’ on the glass solar tiles, as well as being cheaper than any traditional roof available on the market. Whether Elon Musk’s innovative team will be able to deliver on these promises remains to be seen, but the world of solar roofing looks – for want of a better word – bright.