In early July 2017, a gigantic iceberg broke free from the Larsen C Ice Shelf, one of the biggest ice shelves on Antarctica. In the same month, Japan and China faced flooding as a result of torrential downpours, which left several people dead. Meanwhile, forest fires ravaged southern Europe… These are just a few of the consequences of our climate undergoing radical change. Can we still reverse the trend?
Climatologists are telling us it is high time for action. They are convinced that we still can keep climate change in check, and believe that one of the most important priorities is to replace fossil fuels (such as oil and coal) with green alternatives.
The use of highly polluting fossil fuels has risen enormously since the 1970s. As such, Europe has set a goal to cut its CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 – since, to a great degree, these emissions are the result of burning fossil fuels.
To achieve this economically, the cost of using green, renewable energy resources (such as solar and wind energy) must not be higher than the cost of traditional fuels, however. Luckily, according to the World Economic Forum, that tipping point was reached at the end of 2016: solar and wind energy have now become cheaper than coal!
In other words: renewable energy is the ideal way to tackle climate change. But how can we ensure that renewable energy is actually being leveraged in our daily lives? For example, would you be willing to install solar panels on your roof, or does the way they look withhold you from doing so?
Today, we primarily associate solar cells with unattractive blue panels on rooftops. While solar cell roof tiles and windows exist, these solutions are not sufficiently flexible to produce customized solutions.
However, imagine you were an architect who could design a building with solar cell bricks, windows, balustrades, etc. And that you could decide the color and shape of those solar cell building elements for yourself. At that point, you could let your creativity run wild – both with the green building elements and the shape of the building
That scenario is not yet possible today. But if we really want to have solar cells that can be easily integrated into buildings, the time has come to develop a new production process for what are known as ‘thin-film solar cells’.
And that is what we are doing at imec. Within the EnergyVille research collaboration and along with the Solliance partners, we are developing a production process to ensure that, in the foreseeable future, your architect will be able to choose building elements with integrated solar cells in the desired shape, color, size, voltage, and so on.
As such, every one of us will be able to contribute to countering the effects of climate change – by means of a beautiful, energy-neutral home that runs on renewable energy.