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EPFL’s new convention center west façade features dye solar cells

By Damir Beciri
3 December 2013

michael-gratzel-dsscEPFL is going to showoff with their new convention center by making power from its colorful glass façade. This is the first architectural integration of dye solar cells technology at this scale, and it’s achieved in partnership with Romande Energie with a goal to develop a large-scale solar park and conduct research and development projects in the field of energy.

The design, by artists Daniel Schlaepfer and Catherine Bolle, utilizes panels with five different shades of red, green and orange, giving an overall warm and dynamic look. The transparent, color solar panels are relying on Graetzel cell technology. These dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) were invented by EPFL professor Michael Graetzel back in 1991, and they reproduce the principles of photosynthesis in plants.

Aside the fact translucent solar cells have lower efficiency which is congenial to their design and purpose, we haven’t seen much of the dye-sensitized cell technology around us since it used to suffer from serious drawbacks. However, the course of last five years, a new kind of DSSCs called Solid State DSSC. Efficiency of Solid State DSSC has dramatically increased in that time period from 4 to 15 percent.

Transparent, colored solar panels are currently being installed on the west façade of EPFL’s future SwissTech Convention Center, scheduled to open its doors in April 2014. Building’s west façade will have 1,400 solar modules, each one 35 by 50 cm (13.78 by 19.68 inches) in size – creating a total surface area of 300 square meters (3229 square feet). This innovative solar installation is funded by Romande Energie, and it is expected to be operational in December 2013.

This visually compelling installation will be a demonstration of the potential of this kind of solar technology and the first step in their large-scale production and use. Aside being translucent, they’re indifferent to the angle of incidence of light that hits them – making them easily used vertically without any loss in efficiency. Another benefit this approach offers is the shade from direct sunlight which lowers the air conditioning consumption.

“For us it’s essential to support the emergence of innovative technologies that are directly related to what we do”, said Pierre-Alain Urech, CEO of Romande Energie.

This solar façade project is the culmination of a long-standing commitment to innovation and technology transfer at EPFL. Since there are already 11 companies with a secured license to market Graetzel cells, they might become more common on buildings around us.

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