Organic Photovoltaic Technology that Brings Comfort to the Building while Generating Sustainable Power – Innovation by SunCurtain

by Olga Griffith

New and exciting development in OPV commercialization is being offered by an innovative start-up SunCurtain that would like to transform every window into a green power plant. While being inspired to combat climate change, SunCurtain is offering a variety of shading systems that are made entirely of OPVs!

SunCurtain is a small start-up founded in 2018 in Kitzingen, Germany with a huge vision – to meaningfully contribute to the sustainable energy future via green organic PV technology. With this ambition in mind, SunCurtain has successfully developed OPV blinds that serve as an efficient shading solution that offers pleasant atmosphere, greater building efficiency, and power savings. The energy generated by the OPV blinds can be integrated into electronic infrastructure, and directly supply surrounding devices. OPV blinds generate power all year around, with summer in particular being the season when the right sun-protection strategy is very important. Everyone wants their home to be filled with natural daylight, yet no one seems to take into account the excessively high inside temperatures that result on some summer days due to a lack of shading. By launching a curtain that not only protects against overheating caused by incoming sunlight, but also uses this solar energy to produce electricity, the young company SunCurtain GmbH wants to help boost energy efficiency while simultaneously increasing comfort. Join the mission of SunCurtain by supporting its innovative product launch on Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign here!

Conflict of objectives: An energy-efficient building versus sun protection

Stephan Hildebrandt, product manager at SunCurtain GmbH, describes the challenge as follows: “Detailed analyses of buildings – where around 40 percent of our energy worldwide is used – soon show that a lot is being done to maximize building efficiency through adapted architecture or more economical equipment. But as soon as the sun starts to shine a little brighter, the shades are pulled down and the lights and air-conditioning switched on.” Even the supposedly best energy efficiency will then cease to be of any benefit if the resident is still using electricity, he adds. “In short, the cumulative energy from the sun is shut out, increasing power usage inside – is that a paradox or what?” Hildebrandt asks rhetorically.

The search for partners

The engineers from SunCurtain encountered a certain lack of understanding when developing their solar curtain. “We had initially thought we would create this with existing curtain manufacturers”, says Hildebrandt. During talks, however, it soon became clear that modern-day system providers did not understand the concept. “The approach was – at best – reduced to a small photovoltaic module on the edge of the curtain, which would then power a motor to automatically open/shut the curtain”, continues Hildebrandt, adding that they quickly realized that, in this industry, a small gain in user-friendliness has more appeal than a “game changer” that ultimately unlocks a new market environment.

Vertical blinds

SunCurtain decided it would be wiser to develop a shading system that absorbs the sun’s energy, makes it available to users, but still mitigating the side effects of intense sunlight. The curtain is made from flexible photovoltaic panels by ARMOR solar power films GmbH, thus looking like classical vertical blinds, though the manufacturers reiterate that the idea can also be applied to other curtain systems. Semi-transparent blinds in various colors only let a set amount of the visible light through, while ultraviolet and infrared radiation are heavily reduced – to the benefit of the indoor environment. Design and format adjustments are easy to incorporate due to the fact that manufacturing takes place in one single printing process. And the curtains produce electricity that is fed directly into the home’s grid. The curtain can be connected to a wall socket or battery backup. Its simple installation means it can also be fitted in existing buildings.

Together with Lorsch-based Oskar WIDMER GmbH, SunCurtain has already presented a prototype to the public at one of the world’s leading trade fairs, R+T 2018. This prototype is said to successfully demonstrate an OPV module’s use as a shading element and, in particular, the hidden potential in every window.

Organic photovoltaics to produce electricity

“Organic photovoltaics has directly imposed itself as the technology of choice for this solution. Its advantages, such as a light weight, transparency, the integrated UV filter, power generation regardless of sunlight level, and the freedom to be integrated into a curtain system, were a completely new approach that we wanted to implement”, adds Hildebrandt.

The prototype illustrated the idea of providing shade for the interior of a “living object”, reducing sunlight without increasing the need for artificial light. Filtration of the warm light spectrum creates a stimulating light atmosphere. “The room heats up less, and energy is produced over the entire curtain surface”, says Hildebrandt.

Glass office façades as an entry market

The curtain system has an impact on the entire building’s power, offering atmosphere, energy savings and increased building efficiency as added value. The energy gained can also be used to directly supply devices in and around the building. “Our long-term vision is for us to become a kit system on the construction market. In the end, it will be as simple to set up as a normal curtain, but with the advantages of increased building efficiency”, Hildebrandt adds.

In terms of a possible entry market envisioned by SunCurtain for its smart shading system, Hildebrandt mentions “all the big glass office blocks being built today”. When asked about a specific purchase price or the benefit/pay-off resulting from the electricity produced, Hildebrandt concedes it is not yet possible to make any concrete claims. “As the final pricing is yet to be established, we can’t yet say much about how the power saving will help recoup the purchase price. In the end, however, we believe the whole package and entire value of benefit will have to be looked at, not just the power supply”, says Hildebrandt, adding that the SunCurtain system is ultimately not a roof-mounted PV system.

Hildebrandt is confident about the solar curtain’s prospects of success on the market: “The positive response has spurred us on and encouraged further development. We’ve knocked on the market’s door and are now willing to take the next step to become a small-batch series. I hope we will be able to secure interesting pilot projects and investors so that we can grow and do our bit to help the change in energy policy.”

Solar curtain as part of the energy future

SunCurtain considers its solar curtain to be a further contribution to an increasingly electric energy system of the future. Hildebrandt believes the only way to successfully achieve a change in energy policy is through clever ideas and varied technologies used appropriately for their local region. “Wind turbines, roof-mounted systems, and PV solar power stations are not adequate solutions on their own”, he says, adding that “if we want to reproduce more and more functions through electricity as an energy source in the future – the buzzword being electromobility – we need to do something to diversify our energy landscape.”

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