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The Future Of Architecture: Solar Glass
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The Future Of Architecture: Solar Glass

Solar Glass

Glass that can generate electricity is now a reality ladies and gentlemen. Teams around the world are developing semi-clear substrates that have the ability to generate electricity when exposed to light or heat. In theory this technology could revolutionize modern architecture, energy, and construction.

The innovative green technology could convert ordinary windows into electricity-generating windows. Essentially making entire buildings into vertical power generators.

Now there are significant economic forces driving the development of these technologies.

There are an estimated 5.6 million U.S. commercial buildings, which consume hundred of billions of dollars in electricity costs annually. Electricity-generating windows or glass presents an opportunity to significantly reduce energy costs, if not completely eliminate energy costs all together.

Wouldn’t we all love to not have a light bill anymore?!

For architects and designers, the material holds exciting promise as well. The solar glass material could radically change the intrinsic features of buildings. Ushering in a new era of “smart buildings”. These smart buildings would be able to regulate temperature and communicate with HVAC and passive cooling and heating systems.

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of applications for this technology. These ideas are more than just theories. Teams around the world have successfully taken this idea out of proof of concept stages. But it will probably be a while before you see structures being built with this material.

With this article we highlight 2 teams currently developing solar glass materials.  Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and  Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkley, California.


Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Researchers at Berkeley Lab, a Department of Energy (DOE) national lab, discovered that a substance called perovskite – changes structures when exposed to sunlight. During this structure change the material develops photovoltaic properties. Photovoltaic meaning it can absorb photons from light and convert them to electricity. Moreover, the material was found to switch between a transparent state and a non-transparent state depending on its exposure to light. All without degrading its electronic properties.


The team at Berkley, led by Peidong Yang of Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division, have high hopes for this experimental compound. The team believes with the materials efficient energy conversion rates and ease of manufacturing; it can become one of the most promising developments in solar technology in recent years.

To date the Berkley team has been able to produce 7% energy conversion rates in its lab. Which is still a ways off from making it commercially and economically viable in the market place.





Researchers at another DOE lab, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), recently made a related discovery, using the same perovskite material.  Only at slightly more efficient energy conversion rates.


The result of the proof-of-concept was published in Nature Communications. The report sited a solar power conversion efficiency of 11.3 percent. Compared to 20 percent efficiency on standard solar panels.

“There is a fundamental tradeoff between a good window and a good solar cell,” said Lance Wheeler, a scientist at NREL. “Our technology bypasses that. We have a good solar cell when there’s lots of sunshine and we have a good window when there’s not.”



Path To Commercialization

Photo by NREL

The path to commercialization of this technology is still being explored. Teams of researchers are working with business executives to learn what customers want out of the technology. They plan to use these insights to develop viable ways to reach the marketplace.

The photovoltaic windows having both energy harvesting and temperature control features could be a key milestone in the advancement of buildings, automobiles, information displays, and many other technologies.

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