Ancient Roman ruins at Pompeii have been fitted with invisible solar panels, in a move that will ensure the archaeological site’s sustainability and cut costs. The innovative panels, which blend into the background by imitating traditional materials, were installed on the House of Cerere, on a thermopolium—a Roman snack bar—and on the House of the Vettii, which recently reopened following 20 years of restoration work.
“They look exactly like the terracotta tiles used by the Romans, but they produce the electricity that we need to light the frescoes," says Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of the archaeological park of Pompeii, in a press release.
Three-and-a-half million tourists annually explore the vast ruins of the ancient Roman city, which was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. But due to Pompeii’s size, energy bills are expensive and conventional methods of providing power across the site can threaten its appearance.
“Pompeii is an ancient city which in some spots is fully preserved,” Zuchtriegel says. “Since we needed an extensive lighting system, we could either keep consuming energy, leaving poles and cables around and disfiguring the landscape, or choose to respect it and save millions of euros.” The new technology will help the archaeological site to cut energy bills and make it more enjoyable, he adds.
The invisible solar panels—or traditional PV tiles as they are technically known—were created by the Italian company Dyaqua. They can be designed to appear like stone, wood, concrete or brick, so can be hidden on walls and floors, as well as on roofs, says Dyaqua’s Elisabetta Quagliato.
"We are an archaeological site but we also want to be a real-life lab for sustainability and the valorisation of intangible heritage,” Zuchtriegel says. “Our initiative is not merely symbolic. Through the million tourists who visit us every year, we want to send a message to the world: cultural heritage can be managed differently and in a more sustainable way.”
Other locations using, or soon to use, the invisible solar technology are the commune of Vicoforte in Italy, Maxxi—the National Museum of 21st Century Art in Rome—and the cities of Evora in Portugal, and Split in Croatia.
Pompeii’s recent use of these panels is just the beginning, Zuchtriegel says. “From now on, we will be taking this solution into account for all future renovation and restoration projects.”