Wouldn’t it be amazing if your roof and walls could produce electricity for your home?
You would no longer need to pay for electricity. Your home would be self-sustainable. And you’d get to enjoy the joys of modern life wherever you were.
Electricity-generating walls might sound like some crazy, futuristic idea. But it could become a reality in the next few years.
Researchers from Canada to South Korea are working to develop photovoltaic paint that could power homes and buildings just about anywhere. The technology, when it gets mass-produced, would be an upgrade to the solar cells that most homeowners are installing.
For us at Aspiration, we think it’s going to be game-changing. As an environmentally-friendly neobank, we’re always on the lookout for innovative, renewable energy technologies that will accelerate our planet’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
Photovoltaic paint may just be the solution we need to power the homes of 940 million people who do not yet have access to electricity. It may even help us cut our reliance on coal and natural gas completely.
In this article, we explore the many benefits of photovoltaic paint, and how it can help us win the fight against climate change.
How does photovoltaic paint work?
At least three different types of photovoltaic paint are currently being developed. Some paints are made up of tiny semiconductors called colloidal quantum dot photovoltaics while others use calcium titanium oxide particles.
No matter what materials are used to make them, most photovoltaic paints work in similar ways – they harness light from the sun and convert it into electricity. The light knocks the electrons in the semiconductor-concentrated paint loose, generating a direct current that can be stored in a battery or used immediately.
The photovoltaic paint that’s currently being developed at the University of Toronto is a great example of this. Their paint contains dot-shaped nanoscale semiconductors that capture certain spectrums of light.
The size of these dots can be changed according to how much light is available in a certain area. Manufacturers can modify the dots’ light-absorption spectrum to account for cloudy or very bright local conditions.
Experiments so far have shown that this photovoltaic paint could be 11% more efficient than conventional solar panels. They’re also likelier to be cheaper to manufacture and install.
Another type of photovoltaic paint that’s being developed uses materials known as Perovksites, which are derived from calcium titanium oxide minerals. Named after Russian mineralogist Lev von Perovski, the mineral was discovered in 1839 but wasn’t fully explored as a potential renewable energy material until the mid-90s.
Since then, various research firms and universities have experimented with perovskite-containing photovoltaic paint. Perovskite cells are cheap to produce and work in the same way as photovoltaic quantum dots – by helping sunlight jolt negative electrons into an electrical current.
The research so far suggests that perovskites could have a light-to-energy conversion rate of about 20%, which is not too far from the 25% energy conversion rate of traditional silicon-based cells.
Both quantum dot photovoltaic paint and perovskite-based paint can be applied to roofs, building walls, and even ship sails to generate electricity.
Is photovoltaic paint different from a solar cell?
While photovoltaic paints may work almost like solar cells, there are a few key differences in the way they are produced and installed.
For one, solar cells are made from light-sensitive silicon. Silicon can be found in abundance throughout the planet, but refining it into solar cell-grade material is laborious and expensive. It also produces a host of toxic chemicals such as cadmium telluride and silicon tetrachloride.
Photovoltaic paints rely on colloidal quantum dot photovoltaics and perovskites that are less harmful. Colloidal quantum dots are made from copper, selenium, and zinc, which are not considered toxic. Perovskites have been found to contain small amounts of lead, and researchers are now looking for ways to make them safer.
Photovoltaic paints are also more adaptable to changes in light than solar cells. The amount and sizes of the materials used to make them can be increased or decreased to meet conditions on the ground. It’s harder to do the same for solar cells because they’re more rigid and brittle.
Also, solar cell panels are large, pricey, and difficult to transport. Installing them requires a decent amount of labor which has made the upfront costs of solar power systems quite high.
It’s quite a contrast to photovoltaic paints which are easier to transport and cheaper to install. Of course, the technology is still being developed and many more tests will be required to determine their efficiency, but early data suggests that they’ll be more affordable than solar cell panels.
Instead of mounting solar panels on roofs, people can apply the photovoltaic paint to their roofs and walls and hook them up to their home’s power supply.
What uses does photovoltaic paint have?
Photovoltaic paint has the potential to upend the way we view electricity generation. Its high rate of efficiency and ease of application could make energy available to everyone on the planet. It may even accelerate our transition to clean energy transportation.
Here are three ways that researchers hope photovoltaic paint will be used in the very near future.
Building power supply
Photovoltaic paint could be used as a cheap and easy way to help billions of people get out of energy poverty.
It can be painted on building walls and roofs to generate electricity for homes and offices. These could be homes in cities or places as remote as the Mongolian desert. The ability for photovoltaic paint to generate electricity on its own will reduce the need for people to pay electricity and gas bills, and enable them to get adequate heating and cooling throughout the year.
At the moment, 13% of our planet’s population, equivalent to about 940 million people, do not have access to electricity. Another 3 billion are unable to use clean fuels for cooking, which poses serious risks to their health. Even in the United States, 37 million households do not have enough money or systems to meet their daily energy needs.
Photovoltaic paint could change all of that. It has the potential to enable energy security for millions of families by supplying clean energy without cutting into their other living expenses.
Electric car power generation
The rising demand for electric cars will also likely fuel the demand for photovoltaic paints.
Cars painted with perovskites or colloidal quantum dots would be able to generate their own power. The paint could be paired with a cyclical system that stores the collected electricity in a battery during day-driving. The vehicle then switches to the battery at night or on cloudy days.
The innovation would help electric vehicle owners spend less time at charging stations and more time on the road. They’d also not have to worry about paying for fuel.
Perhaps the most important change would come in the form of zero-carbon emissions transport. There would be no need for fossil fuels, and no carbon emissions, if every car was painted with sustainable energy-generating photovoltaic paint.
Power generation for roads and streetlights
We may even be able to go as far as painting roads with photovoltaic paint to power streetlights and signs.
Our roads receive hours of sunlight a day. If we coated them with photovoltaic paint, they could be used to generate electricity to be stored in roadside batteries. At night, the stored energy could be used to operate streetlights and traffic signs that increase visibility at dangerous curves.
According to data from the National Safety Council, nearly 50% of traffic deaths occur at night. Electricity-generating roads could help people drive safer, and reduce that statistic.
Can photovoltaic paint help fight climate change?
Photovoltaic paint can not only help us reduce our energy costs, but it can also help us fight climate change. Transitioning most of our energy requirements to solar energy will cut demand for fossil fuels. It will also help many communities around the planet accelerate their transition to low-carbon technologies.
Reduce the cost of solar energy
As a start, photovoltaic paint can help reduce the cost of solar energy.
A home solar panel power installation at the moment costs between $16,000 to $21,000. To afford such a system, many families need to get green loans and hire a specialized construction company to install them.
With photovoltaic paint, families may need to only pay a fraction of that price. Researchers are developing photovoltaic paint to be cheaper and easier to install than traditional solar panels.
Lower costs will encourage greater public buy-in of solar energy. As more people switch to solar power, demand for fossil fuels will go down.
Spread renewable energy to many corners of the planet
Also, photovoltaic paint can help billions of people transition to safer and cleaner electricity systems.
Several communities, especially those in rural and remote areas, still rely on coal and natural gas for their energy needs. Some cook on open fires that damage their lungs. They do so because there are almost no alternatives.
Photovoltaic paints could completely change this. Their affordability and transportability can help billions of people living in energy poverty switch to clean electricity. Instead of open fires, people can use easy-to-install photovoltaic paint systems to power electric stoves and heaters.
If everyone on the planet switched to clean electricity, we would no doubt meet our zero carbon emissions targets.
Reduce environmental damage
And if whole communities everywhere on the planet switched to photovoltaic paint-powered electricity, there would be a massive reduction in environmental destruction.
Trees would not need to be cut down for firewood. Massive drilling and fracking projects would disappear because there would be no need for fossil fuels. Air pollution would decrease because cars and homes would all run on clean electricity.
All of these scenarios could become a reality in a few decades. Photovoltaic paint has the potential to help us turn the tide against climate change.
Aspiration supports the clean energy revolution
Aspiration is an environmentally-friendly neobank that’s on a mission to fight climate change. We help our customers turn every transaction into positive action, from helping them plant trees with their spare change to automatically offsetting the carbon from every gallon of gas they purchase.