No new building is complete without solar panels. However, architects often loathe including them because the energy benefits for the building are sometimes achieved at the expense of its aesthetic appeal. Kameleon Solar, manufacturer of solar panels, solves this with colored solar panels that offer architects countless new design possibilities.
Text: Jeroen Schreurs, Bouwen aan Vlaanderen, pp. 182-183 | Images: Kameleon Solar
“COLORED SOLAR PANELS ARE INCREASINGLY IN DEMAND. THEY COMBINE SUSTAINABLE TECHNOLOGY WITH ARCHITECTURAL BEAUTY.”
Kameleon Solar is a Dutch manufacturer of custom colored solar panels, founded in 2015. The company’s focus is on façades. Kevin Verpaalen, Creative Director at Kameleon Solar, explains, “Instead of the standard solar panels you often see on houses, production halls, or in solar fields, we try to make special panels so façades can generate energy unnoticeably.”
Interesting for urban BIPV applications
Such solutions are increasingly in demand by architects who want to make the best use of the available space. Regulations are tightening enormously, making sustainability a must. At the same time, the roof space is limited in high-rise buildings and is increasingly taken up by installations that must guarantee the sustainability of the building. Architects are consequently forced to look at the façade. “Our product is therefore very interesting for office buildings and high-rise housing,” says Verpaalen.
An additional advantage in urban environments: the integration with the electricity grid. A façade generates proportionally more energy in the morning and evening than during the day. This reduces the typical peak in the grid of roof-mounted installations, spreading the yield over the whole day. It’s also important to generate the energy where you consume it. Energy from solar fields, which are a few kilometers away, quickly loses efficiency. In this respect, Kameleon Solar’s products fit very well with the mass energy consumption of the city.
Self-developed color technology
So many technical advantages, but the appearance of a solar façade remains a major obstacle for architects. “Nobody likes to look at an unattractive technical façade day in and day out, especially designers,” says Verpaalen. “That’s why we decided to research several color techniques with which we could make the solar panels more attractive. That culminated in a color technique we developed ourselves: ColorBlast®. We print robust ink in a pixel pattern on the outside of the glass. The light falls further down onto the solar cell under that glass layer in between those pixels. You can’t see that it’s all small specks from a distance, and it becomes a homogeneous image. ”
That image is darker than the color of the individual pixels because of the combination with the black solar cells. If an architect wants a specific RAL color, at Kameleon Solar they’ll know which ink to print in order to get the right color in combination with the black cells. The lighter the color, the bigger the pixel.
Inspiring project in Norway
Kameleon Solar already realized some great projects with ColorBlast. The Ticon Eiendom building in Drammen, a few kilometers from Oslo, is a good example. This office and retail building was struggling with very high energy consumption and therefore had to undergo an energy-efficient renovation. Still, since it is a protected building of Drammen’s cityscape, little could be changed on the outside.
Verpaalen: “We fitted the three sides of the building with our solar panels, in a prefabricated combination with four-layer insulating glass. The outer side is electrochromic glass, which darkens when the sun shines in. This is necessary for Scandinavia, where the sun is often very low. It allows the building to save energy in the winter and to have extra cooling in the summer. To make the façade not only energy-saving but even energy-generating, the glass supplier was looking for a company that could produce PV panels in virtually the same color and size as the current façade panels. That’s why they came straight to us. As a result, our combined solution provided 80% of the energy reduction of the entire building. As a matter of fact, it now generates more energy than it consumes.”
Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon of colored solar panels. But what makes Kameleon Solar unique is its wide range of possible solutions for architects. “We manufacture our own products, but also purchase those of others to meet our customers’ needs,” says Verpaalen. “For example, we offer a product where the solar cells themselves are colored. That way, an architect can make that layer pop out instead of hiding it under another color. We can also create sleek metallic effects instead of a matte look.”
And to really complete that range, Kameleon Solar is launching several more new products in 2022. The company will then also offer white solar panels and will be able to produce intense, very bright colors, where even up close, you can’t tell they are individual pixels. “Then the possibilities are endless, so to speak, from Lamborghini yellow to Ferrari red,” says Verpaalen. A third innovative technology: incorporating different colors together on one panel in razor-sharp detail, resulting in photographic quality images.
“This way, we ensure that we have a solution for every vision,” says Verpaalen. “Do you especially want a bright color and want to make a real design statement? Or do you just want more natural colors with an emphasis on power? We have the application in-house to meet those different needs in each case. And we continue to evolve to offer architects even more design options.”