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A great idea: Solar textiles to generate energy

Sheila Kennedy, a lecturer at MIT, has developed solar textiles that work just like conventional solar cells.

Sheila uses 3D modeling software to design with solar textiles, generating membrane-like surfaces that can become energy-efficient cladding for roofs or walls. Solar textiles may also be draped like curtains.

“Surfaces that define space can also be producers of energy,” says Kennedy, a visiting lecturer in architecture. “The boundaries between traditional walls and utilities are shifting.”

Though the solar technology deployed in Kennedy’s Soft House, organic photovoltaics (OPV), is less efficient than conventional silicon-based technologies, Kennedy believes it could still become a commercial success.

Projects like hers provide a unique outlet for the distinct benefits of this solar nanotechnology, she explains, without competing with the centralized grid. Kennedy’s architecture firm plans on collaborating with urban planners and real estate developers to design site-specific Soft House pre-fab projects.

For the Soft House project (see inset), Kennedy transformed household curtains into mobile, flexible energy-harvesting surfaces with integrated solid-state lighting. Soft House curtains move to follow the sun and can generate up to 16,000 watt-hours of electricity – more than half the daily power needs of an average American household.

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