Picture a rooftop solar panel. You’re probably conjuring up images of a flat slab of dark mirrored tiles. That’s understandable; up until this point, flat panels have been the only option for residential installations. But a group of Penn State students are testing out a new approach by installing Solyndra cylindrical solar photovoltaic panels on their Natural Fusion house, an entrant in next month’s Solar Decathlon. The cylindrical panels, which capture more sunlight throughout the entire day than flat panels, have so far only been used in commercial applications.
The 800-square-foot Natural Fusion house uses a system called Green Roof Integrated Photovoltaics, which includes a green roof below the Solyndra panels to boost efficiency. While the green roof is technically less efficient than white roofs, the cooling effect from the plants makes up for the difference.
In addition to the panels, Natural Fusion also features a pump-free solar hot water system, an indoor herb garden, and wood siding from an old Pennsylvania barn upcycled into flooring. All told, the students expect the home to produce zero emissions.
If Natural Fusion wins the Solar Decathlon, the Penn State team will receive $100,000 to advance the cylindrical solar house model. Will Penn State beat out other models from teams at Rice, Ohio State, Cornell, and others? Check back in a few weeks and find out.