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If we are to exploit solar energy on a large scale, we will have to make smart use of existing surfaces, such as roofs, building facades, and roads. In EU member states, a total of 120 billion square metres of space is available for converting sunlight into electricity and heat. Together with its partners, TNO has developed a method for transforming building facades into an energy source, while preserving their aesthetic and functional features. This approach is a relatively cheap way of making buildings energy positive.

Innovative use of the solar spectrum

The essence of this solution is an innovative coating that has been developed in cooperation with AkzoNobel. In the built environment, paint is often used to cool structures by reflecting sunlight. But if it is used to absorb light instead, then energy can be extracted from sunlight. TNO experts have developed ways of utilizing the part of the solar spectrum that is invisible to us. In this way, they were able to create a variety of colours that absorb much more sunlight. These include white surfaces with a greater than 30% increase in solar absorption.

Great business case

Around sixty percent of the energy consumed in homes and buildings is used for heating, so this technology has enormous potential benefits. When used in specially developed panels, this new coating technology can make effective use of between forty and one hundred percent of sunlight. That makes great business sense, especially in the context of renovations. More than eighty percent of homes in the EU were built before 1990, and are poorly insulated. With this new method, it is relatively simple to make these houses energy positive. The investment is quickly recovered. In addition, this approach is a viable alternative to air-source or ground-source heat pumps.

European project

TNO is coordinating the EU ENVISION project, which is developing the renovation concept. Renovation involves approaches such as simply bolting on a modular prefab construction. This solution involves wrapping houses up, as it were, then fitting solar panels to their roofs and solar heat collectors to their facades. In addition, the windows used in this project harvest energy from sunlight. Demonstrations of these solutions in different countries are scheduled for the upcoming period.


Rolph Segers, MSc

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