Caption: Traditional roof-top solar panels. Picture credit: Mischa Frank on Unsplash
Imagine a world where every window, skylight and transparent façade generates energy to power all of a building’s needs, with any excess energy fed into the grid. It’s some way off yet, but it’s looking more and more likely to be possible in the future.
Car sunroofs and smart phones could also generate electricity, with the help of transparent solar panels. There are other benefits too. These transparent solar panels are effective even when they’re not at optimal angles – something that’s important when fitting traditional solar panels.
Not only that, but transparent solar panels will generally be more attractive than the solar panels currently fitted to the rooftops of both commercial and domestic properties. Unfortunately, there’s one stumbling block at the moment – completely transparent photovoltaic solar glass is very inefficient. Glass that’s efficient enough to be worthwhile has a tinted hue and can be more efficient than a standard thin film solar panel.
Another factor that’s important in a product to be used as windows is its strength. You wouldn’t want someone to lean on a solar panel and fall to their death. Happily, these panels are made of laminated glass and are tough enough to be used for a range of window-like applications.
The panels are also less affected by high temperatures than standard photovoltaic panels, so they don’t need the same degree of ventilation.
Cambridge-based company, Polysolar, has tested the panels in several locations, including a solar bus shelter in Canary Wharf. The transparent, photovoltaic glass shelter generates enough electricity to power the average house, but is used to power signage and other infrastructure, even in low light.
Elsewhere in the world, the Copenhagen International School on the city’s waterfront uses 12,000 clear but blue-tinged solar panels. These panels provide half of the electricity required to power the building.
One of the challenges will be in getting this idea to be taken up by developers. The technology may be good for the planet, with homes, offices and other buildings powered by the sun rather than by fossil fuels, but the upfront cost of the glass is paid by the developer, who’s unlikely to see any financial benefit to doing so. It would be the property owner or user who sees long-term cost savings.
Therefore, we will almost certainly need policies to be put in place to encourage the use of transparent solar glass in new developments. It’s unlikely to happen without either government intervention or serious demand from buyers.
In the meantime, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.