A new prototype photovoltaic cladding will soon help buildings capture sunlight and generate energy through their facades.

Developed by materials company LafargeHolcim in partnership with electronics manufacturer Heliatek, the photovoltaic cladding uses LafargeHolcim's concrete with a top layer of Heliatek's HeliaFilm – a flexible 1mm thick solar film.

The new hybrid cladding was recently tested in a pilot project at the LafargeHolcim Research Center using 25 square metres of the facade material. There are plans to launch the product in the market soon. LafargeHolcim says the PV cladding can help buildings generate twice the amount of energy produced via traditional roof-based photovoltaic panels since facades occupy a larger surface area. This innovation will effectively turn a building into a power station.

For instance, covering just 60 percent of a 10-storey commercial building’s exterior with the prototype photovoltaic cladding can generate sufficient energy to meet 30 percent of their annual needs.

HeliaFilm weighs less than 5 percent of a traditional solar panel, allowing its integration into construction materials such as concrete, steel or glass. Heliatek additionally produces a standalone stick-on solar film, HeliaSol for existing buildings.

The two companies will produce 200 square metres of the photovoltaic cladding for an installation in early 2019.

The traditional solar panel continues to be redesigned to improve both functional and aesthetic impact on buildings. Tesla’s Solar Roof project saw standard roof tiles being transformed into energy-generating solar panels. A research group at a Zurich university has also developed thin solar cells that can be installed on concrete roof surfaces.