Jun 13, 2023
Solar Tech Is Coming for Your Neighborhood, Kitchen, and Furnishings
By Adrian Madlener An analysis earlier this month revealed that 2023 is likely to be the hottest year on Earth ever recorded. As the world seeks to mitigate anthropogenic climate change, this is one
By Adrian Madlener
An analysis earlier this month revealed that 2023 is likely to be the hottest year on Earth ever recorded. As the world seeks to mitigate anthropogenic climate change, this is one data point among many that indicate that the need for alternatives to emissions-generating fossil fuels is dire.
Fortunately, some hope is in sight, says WGSN, a London-based forecasting agency that recently published an intelligence report detailing how the solar tech sector is already shifting how we consume energy, especially in our homes. Spotlighting products like SolarBotanic Trees, Dutch designer Marjan van Aubel’s sunset-hued Sunne Lamp, and GoSun’s Sport-E solar ovens, this analysis offers an overview of how, where, and when this ample renewable resource can be harnessed within and around our homes.
According to Statista data shared in the report, the photovoltaic solar panel market is expected to nearly triple—from $87.2 billion to $251.4 billion—between 2019 and 2030. A few factors are at play here, WGSN says. For one, the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, which included a 30% solar tax credit, is likely to propel a more widespread adoption of solar tech, particularly alongside the growing accessibility of solar products in the marketplace. (IKEA’s recent introduction of Home Solar, for instance, is making easy-to-install photovoltaic panels more readily available to California consumers.)
What’s more, solar neighborhoods are popping up throughout the Global South, from Puerto Rico to India. Though these regions are prone to extreme heat, they also happen to receive the highest amount of sunny days per year, making sunlight a promising natural resource. Solar enclaves are also emerging in America: Babcock Ranch, an 18,000-acre planned community in Florida that will eventually host 50,000 residents, could prove to be a game changer.
Babcock Ranch, Florida, is a planned community that, when complete, will host 50,000 residents.
With developments like these underway, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that WGSN notes the rise of “solarpunk,” a sci-fi aesthetic subgenre that has developed extensions into real-world, practical applications. Unlike some doom-and-gloom eco movements, solarpunk is optimistic about the potential for technology and nature to live in harmony. (As its “punk” suffix suggests, DIY is a large part of the ideology.) Online, the growth of the movement is visible in the rise of communities like r/solarpunk on Reddit, as well as the #solarpunk hashtag on TikTok, which has amassed more than 54 million views.
WGSN notes that, while better building materials like solar cell glass bricks (such as those produced by UK manufacturer Build Solar) are making architectural surfaces more hardworking, innovations in energy retention are set to evolve homes even further. Smart energy storage systems, for instance, have the potential to make homes self-sufficient, turning consumers of energy into what the forecasting agency calls “prosumers,” or producers of energy. WGSN also identifies opportunities for automotive companies in the home space, as electric car fleets grow by the year. Korean car giant Hyundai, for one, recently launched Home, a marketplace that links much of its EV lineup with energy management suppliers; auto brand Genesis has also introduced its own closed-loop home energy system. Essentially, our homes can double as powerful charging stations for cars, allowing them to travel farther on single power-ups.
Inside the home, new FF&E solutions are emerging, like wireless solar-harvesting lights and furnishings. Nigerian electronics company QuadLoop upcycles e-waste to produce ÌDùnnú, a self-powering solar lamp that also features a charging port for mobile phones. There are also examples of “solar picnic tables” that collect sun power and offer shade through a ray-soaking canopy. With high load–bearing solar cell driveway pavers and folding solar camping tables now on the market, the carbon-negative economy is looking more attainable than ever.
As revealed by this report, manufacturers around the world are developing dynamic ways in which to utilize this abundant natural resource, imbuing products with new levels of durability, longevity, modularity, and usability. Long gone are the days of ineffective and hard-to-replace photovoltaic roof panels.
However, there are still roadblocks to widely implementing this suite of solutions, the WGSN report notes. “One thing holding solar back at the moment is design,” says Matt Zara, a trend forecaster and editor at WGSN’s consumer technology division. “Prioritizing aesthetics will increase adoption.” Making solar tech more aesthetically palatable—if not invisible—is likely to help move the needle. “We’re starting to see building materials with solar technology embedded,” he says. “This will create more opportunities to generate power and let people integrate the technology in ways that won’t disrupt their aesthetics.”
Even with supply slowly outpacing demand, solar adoption remains cost prohibitive in certain cases. “There are understandable concerns in the midst of a cost of living crisis,” Zara says. “While I appreciate the difficulty of this at the moment, solar is a solution that requires us to think long-term.” Though an initial investment may be necessary, Zara points out that homeowners will save money in the long run. “It will also reduce their reliance on the grid, which can protect against future price hikes and climate disruption,” he adds.
Zara cites the Perovskite solar cell as one paradigm-shifting solution. The low-cost material can be used to produce thin-film solar cells that are durable, lightweight, flexible, and scalable across the industry. Researchers at Swansea University in Wales have developed a way of screen printing Perovskite cells onto steel roofing, showing one potential application of the product. One of the last challenges, perhaps, is finding ways in which renters, not just homeowners, can have a say in the energy they use. For them, implementing self-sufficient FF&E products—like those highlighted above—is a first step in taking control of their own consumption.