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Researchers Light Up Bus Shelter With Flexible Solar Cells

By Jonathan Bardelline – Jonathan Bardelline, Jun 16, 2009 

One of the bus shelters on the McMaster University campus is powered entirely by two solar cells rigged to its roof, but what makes the solar cells stand out is that, unlike most solar panels, they don’t stand out.  Engineering researchers at the Canadian university developed the cells as flexible strips (below, right), allowing them to bend along with the shelter’s curved roof, as opposed to sticking out from the roof in flat panels like most solar installations.

The two solar cells, which each generate up to 4.5 watts, power the shelter’s two multi-LED light fixtures, and the researchers hope the solar cells can be used in the future to power Internet-based electronic bus schedule updates.  The researchers also hope the installation will help commercialize the flexible cells. Another group of researchers working on flexible solar installations is the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has developed its own shingle-like rooftop solar panels.

By using a filming process already in use for coating flat panel displays that utilize organic light-emitting diodes, the lab has developed a process for coating thin-film solar panels that protects them from the elements, making it possible to use them in rooftop and other solar installations. Like the bus shelter solar cells, these panels (above, left) could be installed cheaply and easily along roofs as an alternative to larger, chunkier panels.