Windows With PowerEnvironment Friday, August 24th, 2012
It sounds like something from a science fiction novel about life in the 22nd century but windows which double as energy generators by utilising the sun’s powerful rays are a very real technology which could be rolled out to commercial and residential buildings as early as the end of 2013. The technology means that transparent windows on all kinds of buildings would also possess power generating capabilities, which is a huge breakthrough in solar energy development.
The Science Behind Solar Windows
Glass is coated with a network of tiny solar cells (each measuring less than 1/4 the size of a grain of rice), which are connected by virtually invisible wires. The solar cells absorb the sunlight and the wires transport the electrical current created to terminals, just like in a battery. The interconnecting grid of wires and cells are so fine that transparency isn’t affected (a fairly important factor for a window!) and light, essential to the production of energy, isn’t obstructed.
Advantages of Solar Windows
The potential of solar windows is huge as glass is such a widespread building material. Indeed, around 60% of the surface area of a huge number of commercial buildings is glass. Just think of the huge expanses of glass on most skyscrapers and then imagine if they were all coated with solar technology. By doing nothing but absorbing sunlight, those buildings could be generating electricity, perhaps to power their lights or computers! The costs are also lower than conventional photovoltaic panels as the cells are applied to an existing material rather than being manufactured as a huge panel. Installation costs are reduced as the technology is substituted for conventional windows rather than as an additional piece of equipment. Organic Photovoltaic (OPV) cells can be created from a range of inexpensive polymers in liquid form which is then sprayed onto the glass or applied using a roll-to-roll process – both of which are far less expensive than conventional silicon-based solar technology.
The Future of Solar Windows
Currently, solar window technology is only capable of producing and converting electricity at just over 8% efficiency – far less than other solar panels – but the framework is there to develop the technology so that the figure can rise to 20%. The size of the area able to support the grid was initially tiny but researchers have already increased it by almost 15 times and eventually they hope to be able to apply the technology to any size of glass, making the potential for structural glass for skyscrapers immense. Not only can the new solar technology be installed as brand new windows but flexible films are being developed to be applied to existing windows in both residential and commercial properties.
In short, the energy generated from solar windows could significantly bump up that produced from photovoltaic panels – combined, the two solar technologies could generate enough energy to power an entire house, and perhaps even sell some back to the grid. Solar power is clean, green, renewable, sustainable and, once installed, completely free. What with the energy crisis and climate change currently forcing us to rethink our energy choices, solar might very well be the energy of the future.