Okay, so now its official. It is definitely feasible to make shirts and trousers and sun shades that generate electricity. Japanese private firm has hit a home run by releasing a fabric with PV cells embedded in it.
If it is possible to commercialize it – after all the various improvements that the firm is claiming to introduce – here are my thoughts on the range of different applications once could possibly see coming in from this material.
But, first, let us get a stock of reality check on it. The product is in infancy stage of development. The company says that there are still some challenges including durability of the fabric, isolation of electric conductors and proper weather proofing of the circuit. With all these ‘extra’ layers of protection coming in, this product is definitely not going to be ‘soft and silky’ to be worn as shirts and skirts. So, I foresee this product requiring a lot of iterations of development before we see it coming even close to entering textile industry.
So, let us concentrate on commercial fabric industry. Starting with blinds in offices. Blinds are, a good possible use of this fabric. But, while it sounds good, there are generally some major drawbacks of using them as blinds. Blinds are not always kept in closed position meaning even though you have invested into having these PV powered blinds, you would not always get the maximum energy yield from them.
Tents: That surely is very promising field for this technology. Tents are used in places where the power is scare – if available. With modern life and digital age, people find need for energy even when they are camping, hiking or being ‘supposedly seclude’. This new lifestyle and resulting power needs makes good business case of having fabric used in tents produce power that could possibly be stored. Add to this, general availability of unobstructed sun light at places where the tents are generally pitched.
Car ports: This field has been trying really hard to use conventional PV modules within its designs. Even though some of the best designs have been used previously to ‘attract’ potential large clients, this has not necessarily taken off in big way. Some constraints include need for specially designed super structure for mounting PV modules. Even after putting the system up, you are definitely not going to get a complete water proof shade for your fine cars. The over all cost of ownership is much higher than if you were to use conventional fabric shade that meets all your need at much lower price and having all those PV modules mounted on the roof of your house. With all those serious issues, a fabric based PV system will definitely fly. Not only it’d need smaller structure, but it’ll also do all those basic things that a traditional fabric based shade are expected to do.
So, there is a definite market for this product. My verdict, Go for it, Mr. Japanese! We are waiting to hear more from you.