PV-TV: A Multifunctional, Eco-Friendly Building Material

A skyscraper’s exterior skin adds structural support and helps maintain the building’s internal temperature; some skins also offer aesthetic value, shimmering in the light and reflecting the landscape in pleasing ways. But what if a skyscraper’s outside wrapping could take a more active role in sustaining the building’s operational needs and engaging passers-by?

One result might be PV-TV. Developed last year by the Tokyo-based MSK Corporation in conjunction with chemical company Kaneka and Japanese architecture firm Taiyo Industries, this amorphous silicon technology has a “three-in-one” functionality: it is able to act as a glazing element, solar panel, and video display screen. The panels, which are 980mm long and 950mm wide, come in a standard depth of 10mm thick, as well as in a 13mm-thick, strengthened-glass option.

As an external glaze, PV-TV allows up to 10% visible light to be transmitted through the panel. This level of light transmission is optimal to allow sufficient light in cloudy conditions while protecting against excessive solar gain and ultraviolet rays. It can provide thermal insulation and replace top lights, eaves, windows, and/or curtain walls.

As a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel, PV-TV can generate 3.8 watts of electricity per square foot, an above-average level of efficiency. Furthermore, unlike other PV systems, these panels are transparent and can be integrated into almost any part of a building without obscuring light or ruining the building’s aesthetic appearance, two downsides of conventional PV panels.

But PV-TV’s most unusual feature is its ability to act as a full-color internal and external screen. A picture or advertisement projected from inside a structure can be seen within that building, with PV-TV acting as a regular display screen. On the outside of the building, the material can function as a giant billboard.

Since the PV-TV screens don’t have the luminosity of liquid crystalline or a digital TV screen, they perform best when there are no other competing light sources, according to MSK spokeswoman Aya Tanida.

Currently, there are a few projects within Japan where PV-TV has been applied. One is MSK’s own factory in Nagano, where various components of MSK’s solar modules are manufactured. The factory is now the world’s largest single PV module plant, producing 100 megawatts of energy annually.

Though PV-TV has yet to gain popularity outside of Japan, MSK still has high hopes for the global market. The company recently opened an office in London and says it will heavily market all of its PV products to European companies.

Could PV-TV have a future in the U.S.? According to Paul Maycock, of PV Energy Systems, Inc., it is uncertain. One stumbling block is how difficult it is to quantify the product’s value versus its price. (Right now, the technology is priced at $45 per square foot.) But that said, Maycock adds, “Whoever heard of a curtain wall that pays for itself? It’s a great idea to do something with the skin of the building besides just keeping the heat load down.”

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