Solar power sounds great: electricity from sunshine, for free, no carbon footprint. But solar panels often come with hefty price tags or require complex installations. Now lighter materials are making them less expensive and more convenient, whether you carry them with you or snap them onto your roof.
Now: Power Pack
This take-anywhere electric plant won’t weigh you down. Tonino Lamborghini’s bag is the first product to use a new solar panel that’s as light, thin and flexible as fabric yet absorbs rays in any light, including artificial light or under clouds. It’s made of dye-sensitized solar cells, which trap more wavelengths in less space by wrapping each individual particle of a conductive layer in light-absorbing dye molecules. Charge a cellphone in six to eight hours, indoors or out.
Tonino Lamborghini Solar Bag with G24 DSSC Panel $200 (est.);
Soon: Plug-and-Play Panels
Click together a rooftop solar system in a few hours, saving days or weeks on design and installation. Armageddon’s modular kit consists of metal frames light enough to carry up a ladder, plus 18-pound solar panels—coated in Teflon instead of heavy glass—that snap onto the frames’ tabs. The easy-to-lift, ready-made parts mean that installers don’t have to build frames on top of a house and also eliminate tricky wiring, since each frame has its own DC-to-AC converter that lets it plug straight into a home circuit breaker.
Armageddon Energy SolarClovers From $8,000; armageddonenergy.com
Later: Solar Shingles
Rather than laying solar panels across your roof, use them as your roof. Dow built thin-film photovoltaic cells directly into polymer shingles. They’re as protective as ordinary shingles, nail down in the same way and, in place of exposed wiring, hook together with simple electrical connectors at their ends. Some units go on sale later this year, with wide availability next year. Dow is also working on other building materials with sun power built in. —Arnie Cooper
Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles Price not set; dowsolar.com