When you think of solar panels, what comes to mind?
“Most typically people imagine a solar panel as rectangular ridged frame with black surface mounted on glass or steel and placed on a roof or pole,” said Todd Dalland, President of Pvilion, a developer and manufacturer of flexible photovoltaic products.
Pvilion is taking the preconceived notion of pv panels, stretching and twisting in an entirely different direction – quite literally. The New York City-based company is pioneering the design, engineering, manufacturing and installation of fabric and PV fabric structures. Pvilion has come up with unique thin film flexible solar panel designs made of PV cells that are placed on structural fabrics. Some of those fabrics are up to 20 feet long and only one-sixteenth of an inch thick.
“We look at it as solar panels 2.0,” Dalland said. “We’ve reached a new level.” They’ve also had years of practice at it. Dalland started his first design engineering company, FTL Design Engineering, back in 1977 where he started working with tensile building construction, which relies on tension without compression or bending. Robert Lerner, the COO of Pvilion joined Dalland in 1985.
In 1998 the pair designed and produced the first solar PV fabric tensile in the world, the Under the Sun Pavilion at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City. Later, the two worked together to design the a tent for the US Army, winning a $500 million competitive bid. In 2001, they designed the PowerShade for the Army and continued to receive funding and grants to develop various flexible PV fabric structures over the years.
In 2011, they founded Pvilion and added 24-year-old Colin Touhey as CEO. His age and educational background as an electrical engineer have helped to add a new edge to the pair’s previous designs. Lerner’s architecture experience and Touhey’s renewable energy engineering have Pvilion using tensile structures as the basis for their designs, with modernized flexible PV materials, which allow the sun to generate power to for the structure.
“What exciting things have you seen in the solar panel industry in the last 10 years? I would argue, nothing,” Touhey said. “No one has done what we are doing.”
What Pvilion is doing is increasing efficiency by harnessing solar energy while lowering costs, at the same time incorporating a third element many other solar panel manufacturers have neglected, an architecturally pleasing design. “It’s very hard to make those panels look nice, we are trying to change that,” Touhey said.