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Coming soon: skyscrapers glazed with solar panels

The next big thing in solar power is windows. After all, there are only so many roofs and deserts in the world – and solar panels that can create energy while fulfilling another function at the same time will always go down better than bulky, expensive technology which must be specially installed for a single purpose.

Last year, we wrote about these transparent solar panels created by Michigan State University, which researchers hope could eventually be used on everything from windows to phone screens. However, at the moment the panels are expensive to produce, and aren’t that efficient – the most efficient solar panels on the market convert 47 per cent of the sunlight’s energy to power, while the Michigan State model only converts around 1 per cent. 

Now, though, there’s a new transparent solar panel in development, the SolarWindow, which, according to the US’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is more efficient than the Michigan State panel, and than many commercial solar panels. From SolarWindow president and CEO, John Conklin:

Based on data from the high-performance modules unveiled by SolarWindow Technologies on March 26, 2014, and the company’s review of prevailing published literature and scientific reports confirmed that SolarWindow™ modules outperform publicized devices of comparable architecture, size, and design by over 53 per cent in terms of power production – a major achievement and new record. The Company’s certified, high-performance module is the most efficient organic photovoltaic (OPV) module ever measured by the National Renewable Energy Lab’s (NREL) Device Performance Measurement Laboratory.

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SolarWindow takes the form of a coating applied to glass, which would be able to generate power even in low sunlight or shade, unlike traditional panels.According to the University of North Carolina’s Energy Performance and Infrastructure Centre, the panels would pay for themselves within one year through energy savings.

Researchers examine a SolarWindow panel. We’re assuming those gridlines would not be in place on the finished article. Image: SolarWindow. 

From the SolarWindow website: 

SolarWindow™ modules can be applied to all four sides of tall towers, generating electricity using natural, shaded, and even artificial light. Conventional solar does not work in shaded areas or perform under artificial light. As a result, SolarWindow™ modules outperform today’s solar by as much as 50-fold when modeled for installation on a 50-story building.


The product is still a work in progress but it seems possible that SolarWindow and competitor companies could be glazing windows on new buildings with solar panels in the near future. If this became a standard feature of any new builds, the renewable energy sector would receive a huge boost, and glass-heavy buildings (like skyscrapers) could supply a big chunk of their own energy consumption. Win win. 
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