An innovative new technology means solar panels are no longer limited to rooftops - Iron Matrix co-founder David Morgan wants to cover entire houses with them. Not only is this possible, but it’s also cheaper than building a traditional house.
Australia is one of the world’s biggest consumers of household electricity, with some of the highest electricity bills in the world. And despite the advent of renewable energy technologies, data from the past few years suggests that this number is increasing. Meanwhile, our carbon emissions are higher than they have ever been.
Living in one of the sunniest countries in the world, it would make sense to take advantage of solar panels. But why stop at rooftop panels – why not turn entire buildings into solar energy producers?
Iron Matrix co-founder David Morgan had this very idea more than 10 years ago when he was working in the oil & gas industry.
“Back in 2005, no one believed solar prices would ever be competitive with fossil fuels. But the idea never left me,” he says.
Indeed, solar panels were prohibitively expensive at the time, but Morgan had a hunch that this would change.
When he decided to start his business, “the solar prices were only going down and oil & gas projects were only getting harder, more complicated and more expensive”.
When solar panel prices reached 30 cents per watt in 2017, Morgan made it his mission to not only determine whether it was possible to clad a house in solar panels, but to actually do it. The result of this is Iron Matrix House, a multi-storey home that stands tall on a steep hill in rural Perth.
How does it work?
Iron Matrix is a structure made of just two repeating patented steel parts. It took Morgan and a friend just 100 days to build the prototype home to lock up using just nine different major components. Not only was it a world-first, but it was also cheaper than building a traditional home in this location.
According to Morgan, it wouldn’t be possible to clad a standard house in solar panels because traditional steel and wood frame houses are not stiff enough nor sized correctly. However it is entirely possible with an Iron Matrix house, as it is somewhat of a hybrid between a standard house and a pre-fabricated house.
All of the components are designed to be made by robots, flat-packed into shipping containers and assembled on site without cranes, scaffolding or earth-moving equipment. And solar panels can be attached anywhere to the structure at no incremental cost to traditional cladding.
What’s more, the panels could generate a home’s entire electricity needs for free, half of which can be stored in a thermal-mass heating and cooling system that the Iron Matrix structure has also been designed for.
For this reason, Iron Matrix homes are projected to cost 20-30 percent less than a standard home over their life when produced at scale.
“The best part is that Iron Matrix homes are fully reconfigurable and expandable,” says Morgan.
“People can start with a modest-sized home and add over time or re-sell it, which allows the consumer to retain as much value as possible.”
And because the homes are assembled on site with no cranes required and just nine components needed in the entire build, this means anyone can build their own home.
As of right now, Iron Matrix is certified for buildings of up to two storeys. The joints are currently undergoing a Finite Element Analysis to determine their strength and certify Iron Matrix for use in taller buildings.
“There are only nine different major components in the whole build and each level is built exactly the same way, so from a construction perspective there is no limit to how high it can go,” says Morgan.
Looking at the big picture
As for why we need this technology, Morgan says it all comes down to the relationship between energy and the economy.
"Money is really just a technology for trading the things we value and everything we value takes energy to create.
“We had a simple philosophy on how to create the most value for customers – apply the latest technology to reduce energy consumption and maximise free energy generation. The natural result is a more affordable, sustainable and adaptable home.”
Patents for Iron Matrix have been recently granted, and the company has received strong interest from investors. The company is currently looking for construction and fabrication partners to bring Iron Matrix to customers in Australia and the rest of the world, and to help build what might just be a genuine clean energy revolution.