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World’s largest building integrated ‘organic’ solar power installation completed

Heliatek installed the ‘world’s largest building integrated organic photovoltaic’ (BIOPV) system on top of a school in La Rochelle, France. 22kW of their ‘HeliaSol’ product was installed in one day by six people.

The ultra-environmentalist solar installation is seemingly 7-8% efficient, weighs 1/10th the weight of a standard solar panel and is held to the roof via an adhesive sticker on the backside of the panel.

Heliatek touts HeliaSol’s benefits due to it’s environmentally friendly ease of manufacturing. When producing the product: no clean room is required, very little energy is consumed, no extreme temperatures are needed, no toxic materials are used, and minimal use of raw materials are actually consumed. The resulting product is cheap, with almost infinitely available material needs and needs no expensive recycling processes through end of life.

“The small molecules of Heliatek are simply thermally evaporated onto the substrate in contrast to other OPV technologies utilizing large molecules (polymers), which require complex solvents and various printing processes. Very precise laser patterning allows optimal use of the available surface.”

Heliatek’s press site shows an image of a production line that looks quite clean:

The 22.5kW installation required 500 m² of Heliatek’s HelaSol material. They cut the product into 2, 4, and 5.7 m pieces. There were just under 400 individual films that the company estimates took less than 2 minutes each to be installed.

Technical stats:

  • World record of 13,2% OPV cell efficiency for non-transparent organic solar cells
  • Production efficiency currently achieving 7-8 %
  • Transparency levels up to 50% with an efficiency of 6%
  • Less than 10% degradation after 3,000 hours at 85°C / 85% relative humidity
  • Eight hours installation done by six individuals (22.5kW project)

HeliaSol can be applied to many surface types:

Electrek’s Take

Most people are interested in this type of project because you could glue it to your roof in a profile and low impact installation process. A one day installation of 22kW is impressive. Installing these on the side of buildings opens up a huge market of preexisting structure.

6% efficiency for a large roof or a homeowner generally isn’t a compelling conversation. And that’s why it took until people saw 13-15-17% and more to be really excited about installing. However, if the surface really can’t get anything else installed on it – and the price is reasonable – a system creating 23.5MWh/year from 500 m2 becomes exciting. So, maybe 6% is enough.

Me personally – I’m interested because of EROEI. “Energy returned on energy invested” is a big topic in philosophical and academic circles when speaking about energy usage on a species level. The thought is, the more energy it costs to make your energy – the less free energy will be available for the species to do things like science, have medicine, art, transportation, etc.

These panels have an energy payback of 3 months. The energy (electricity from mining silicon through hooking up system to the grid) that goes into a standard solar power installation is paid back in a period ranging from just under a year through four years – depending on technology and where it is installed. That means over a lifetime of 25-30 years, these system will payback their energy six to more than thirty times.

If HeliaTek’s product can last eight years it will have paid back its energy more than thirty times. Per the chart above, that means we’ve got some art coming back to us.

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