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Solar Skins could help aesthetics-conscious homeowners go green

Why it matters to you

If you wouldn't buy solar panels because you think they're ugly, Sistine Solar might have the solution to saving you money and energy.

If you feel like solar panels break the lines of your home’s aesthetic, or think that covering your roof in solar cells is a waste of advertising space, Sistine Solar’s new solar skins could be what you’re looking for. They let you make your rooftop panels look like whatever you want, without much impact on efficiency.

Winner of the 2013 MIT Clean Energy Prize, Sistine Solar’s design is a relatively simple one: Placing a thin, printable layer within the panel itself. That lets owners match their panels to their roof, or go for a custom color scheme altogether. Some businesses are even considering using the technology for advertising space, helping to offset installation costs.

Sistine Solar is a startup in the earliest stages of development, but has already completed several test installs of the technology and has received a lot of interest in it since. To confirm its efficacy, it’s currently testing its SolarSkin technology at the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory under a Department of Energy grant. There it will confirm what effect the skin has on the efficiency and longevity of the panels.

More: Lightweight, flexible solar panels may be more efficient than competitors’

Currently there is around a 10 percent increase in installation costs with SolarSkins in place, but Sistine Solar claims that solar will still offer savings of many thousands of dollars over the life of the panels.

The technology behind it is all is all rather hush-hush right now, but Sistine Solar claims to have made innovations in the field of light filtration, to allow the majority of light to pass through the panel to the photovoltaic cells, whilst still projecting the image of whatever the customer desires, to the human eye (as per MIT).

Sistine Solar isn’t the only company looking to innovate the look and function of traditional solar panel designs. Tesla Motors recently unveiled a concept for a solar cell roof tile, replacing the need for separate panels and simply integrating the energy generating functionality into the roof tiles themselves.

Of course, there’s always the chance that windows of the future will do all the sun-catching we need instead.