If you live in an apartment, it’s difficult to have solar panels: Your landlord decides what goes on your roof. But a new design makes solar panels more accessible to those without a roof of their own. Hanging inside a window, the origami-style blinds generate electricity as light reflects against the folds of the panel. At the same time, the geometry of the design brings more natural light inside.
“We’re looking at repositioning the city as a place of production, not just a place of consumption,” says Ben Berwick, an architect and the director of the Australia-based design firm Prevalent, who is currently working with a Japanese manufacturer on a prototype of the design, called Solgami. Most of the world’s population lives in cities, and that number is growing; the design is one way to allow more people to participate in the global project of transitioning to renewable energy.
Solar on windows isn’t a new idea, and others have created coatings that can go directly on glass. But the alternatives have been inefficient and darken rooms. “Largely, it’s reducing the quality of your light–why would you put something in your window that’s going to cut your light by 50% just to gain a small amount of electricity?” says Berwick. Solgami’s design, by contrast, can make an apartment brighter as it works. “It’s a bit of a reconnection to the natural setting,” he says. “It’s making your apartment a better place to be.”
The shape is based on louvers that are sometimes used in office buildings to reflect more natural light inside. While a typical solar panel on a rooftop reflects most of the light that hits it back into the sky, Solgami’s shape makes it possible to bounce light between multiple solar panels, generating more power. The folded shape also provides more surface area; in combination, the design makes it possible to harvest more energy from a window. As someone adjusts the blinds, that redirects the light reflected inside and changes the amount of electricity generated.
The design is made by screen printing thin film solar cells onto a plastic backing, cutting out the design, and then folding it into the origami shape–something that’s difficult to do in early prototypes, but relatively simple to manufacture at scale. The materials are also affordable. “It’s been designed in a way so it can be completely low cost,” he says.
The amount of power generated will vary based on the size of someone’s windows, the direction they face, and other factors, and Berwick doesn’t yet have final estimates for an average apartment. But the company claims that a glass-walled office building equipped with the device could generate all of the power it needs. In an apartment, the power will run from the blinds into a box on the wall, and then likely back into the grid; even if it doesn’t fully offset someone’s electricity bill, it could be a way for city dwellers to contribute to solar power at a much larger scale. As renewable energy quickly grows, Berwick says, “This is basically a geometry to allow that to happen, considering the majority of the world’s population live in apartments or in urban areas.”