The humans of the clean and prosperous future will never build windows or walls with plain old glass. Not when they can use solar glass instead. There are already a wide array of projects, most of them still in the testing stages, that aim to transform windows into solar power generators. One researcher wants to fit windows with thin-film ‘luminescent solar concentrators’; red or grey ones would efficiently convert sunlight into electricity.
Oxford Photovoltaics, however, wants to do one better—it wants to build the solar panel directly into the glass. The company, a spinoff from some famous British university or other, just announced a $3 million funding boost, which means we’re getting closer to a world with buildings built out of solar glass.
In a recent report on the company, the Guardian succinctly breaks down how the photovoltaic glass does its magic:
The technology works by adding a layer of transparent solid-state solar cells at most three microns thick to conventional glass, in order to turn around 12% of the solar energy received into low-carbon electricity. The power can then be exported to the national grid or used for the running of a building.
Oxford’s CEO, Kevin Arthur, claims that the technology only adds 10% to the cost of typical glass building facades, which makes transforming your next corporate headquarters into a giant solar panel sort of a steal.
And unlike other incubating solar window technologies, this one comes in a wide array of aesthetically palatable hues.
"Within reason we can print any color, there's a wide range of dyes, blues and greens and reds and so on. But different colors have different efficiencies: black is very high, green is pretty good and red is good, but blue is less good,” Arthur told the Guardian.
So, to recap: solar glass comes in any color, is relatively cheap, and can convert up to 12% of the sun that hits it into zero-pollution power. If it pans out, this is a game-changer. And here’s why: buildings are a huge source of carbon dioxide emissions. In the U.S., buildings account for 39% of all CO2 emissions, according to the U.S. Green Building Council . Buildings suck down more power than anything else, in fact—so obviously, the more that are outfitted with onsite clean power-generators, the more we can bring that number down. New buildings built with solar glass could even feasibly be net energy exporters.
It bears reiterating that the bulk of the emissions reduction on buildings will come from hideously unsexy stuff like retrofits and additional insulation installation, but technologies like solar glass clearly light the way forward. I repeat: With any luck, the commercial buildings of the future will be towering, multi-colored solar panels.