So, you know what a standard solar roof tile looks like right? Basically, a solar roof tile is the same as a solar panel, but it doesn’t have a metal frame and the surface of the tile has been etched.
When we realised that you can etch the surface of glass on a solar panel without effecting the efficiency significantly we realised that perhaps you could etch patterns, words, images onto the solar panels allowing the panel to have another cultural dimension.
We’ve been working with master glass maker Ian Hankey to explore different glass etching and engraving processes to determine which are the most effective and which have the least impact on the efficiency of the solar cells.
It is also with great thanks to The RSA and their catalyst funding that we have been able to undertake this work.
We tested chemical etching following conversations with Plymouth based artist Jenny Ayerton, and we tested sand-blasting and laser etching at different pressures and settings to see which was the best from an efficiency perspective and which also gave us the most interesting marks.
We explored whether etching on the top or the bottom side of the glass from to the solar cell worked best and we were surprised and delighted at some of the results.
We discovered that in some instances (that we will need to re-test to confirm) the etching actually marginally increased the power output from the cell and we also noted that none of the tests we did actually had a significant negative effect on efficiency.
We also discovered that some etching processes gave clearer images.
We still have further tests to undertake.
What this means is that we may be able to ‘retro-fit’ existing solar arrays with some processes to add value to the installations and add character and local reference.
We have had some support from the fabulous glass engraver Patricia Hilton-Robinson that will allow us to explore the impacts of engraving and we have also texted the first glass mosaic over solar PV created by Exmouth based artist Allan Punton. This showed us quite different results and we plan to test a variety of different coloured glass soon too.