Solar-Panel 'Skin' May Be Future of Sustainable Home

Elizabeth Montalbano

March 14, 2014

3 Min Read
Solar-Panel 'Skin' May Be Future of Sustainable Home

A team of Dutch designers has come up with a way to retrofit a typical home in the Netherlands with a "skin" of solar panels and smart technology to make the home more sustainable and energy neutral.

A team from Delft University of Technology will show off its project called Pret-a-Loger, or ready to be lived in, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles, which begins on June 28. The project's name was chosen because people can still live in the home while changes are being made to create sustainability, according to the Pret-a-Loger website.

The project began as an idea to revitalize the typical row home in the Netherlands. These row homes sprung up after World War II as a quick and cost-efficient way to solve a housing shortage then, but have proved over time to be not terribly energy efficient, according to researchers.


The idea behind the project is to make the row homes not just more energy-efficient, but also self-sustaining while maintaining the integrity of the original structure.

To do this, the Delft team has devised a so-called skin composed of photovoltaic cells that will surround a row of homes on a street. The skin also will include solar greenhouses, which are found throughout the Netherlands and especially in the region that was the inspiration for the project, Honselersdijk.

"The insulated skin will provide a climatic buffer zone to the outside, generate its own power and reclaim the somewhat lost relationship to the public street thus tackling issues regarding ecological and in particular social sustainability," the team said in a press statement.

In the summer, the skin will remain open with the solar PVs generating energy and also providing shading for the houses. In the winter, the skin will be closed, trapping heat from the sun and keeping heat loss in the house to a minimum so it stays warm even in cold weather.

The team has posted a video on YouTube explaining the inspiration behind and the scope of the project.

Adding solar panels to part of a building's exterior, like the roof, has typically been the way to leverage solar energy in residential homes. But many see the integration of photovoltaic cells and building materials themselves as the future for solar energy.

One example of this is energy-harvesting glass being developed by a number of researchers, including those at Oxford Voltaics. Glass panes for windows are coated with photovoltaic material so the windows of buildings can generate energy used by the facilities, thus making them more sustainable and energy efficient.

A variety of new directions for integrated solar technology for houses will be on display at this year's Solar Decathlon, a competition launched by the DoE in 2002 to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of solar technology for the housing industry. This year's contest has 20 universities around the world building 20 houses that must function independently using only solar energy for two weeks.

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About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Montalbano

Elizabeth Montalbano has been a professional journalist covering the telecommunications, technology and business sectors since 1998. Prior to her work at Design News, she has previously written news, features and opinion articles for Phone+, CRN (now ChannelWeb), the IDG News Service, Informationweek and CNNMoney, among other publications. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she also has lived and worked in Phoenix, Arizona; San Francisco and New York City. She currently resides in Lagos, Portugal. Montalbano has a bachelor's degree in English/Communications from De Sales University and a master's degree from Arizona State University in creative writing.

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