Flexible, Solar Cell Glass to Replace Roofs?

The U.S. government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory built flexible solar cells using a thin, pliable glass in partnership with Coring, the company that makes iPhone screens.

The flexible glass, called Willow glass, is made from solar cells that could last for decades on the roof as well as snow, rain, and hail. While conventional solar panels and bulky and heavy, new solar cells could be nailed to a roof in place of shingles.

“We knew from our optical fiber work that glass is actually stronger than steel when you try to pull it apart,” Dipak Chowdhury, division price president and Willow glass commercial technology director at Corning, told Technology Review.

Normal glass is formed by floating a layer of molten glass on top of molten metal, then cooling it. Willow glass forms in air through an interaction in which molten glass glows over the edges of a long trough. The glass must be scratch-free to be strong; once it is not, it requires much less force to break.

Willow glass can replace traditional roofs. They would be more energy efficient, less cumbersome, and – not to mention – cheaper. The only extraneous labor cost would be hiring an electrician to plug the array of singles into an inverter and connect it to the grid.

Corning’s glass could be used in thinner gadgets, as well. Rumors have been circulating that the solar cells are being used in Apple’s iWatch .

These solar shingles are already available; Dow makes them. Glass-based shingles could be more durable than plastic, and is efficient at sealing out the elements.

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