Is it finally time to take solar windows seriously?

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For as long as solar panels have existed, scientists and entrepreneurs have tried to make them. just It is transparent enough to be used in windows and other building-integrated visual PV (BIPV) applications.from ultra-thin silicon perovskite, many bases have been tested for transparent solar cells, but with little commercial success. is in Instead, researchers are looking to organic semiconductors.

Solar windows for ubiquitous energy

organic semiconductor Carbon and hydrogen-based atoms that are natural electrical insulators without the need for silicon, cadmium, or lead. Organic semiconductors produce energy or become “charged” when doped with appropriate electrodes or exposed to sunlight. Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are the best-known organic semiconductors and are found in the latest TV models. Organic semiconductors can be melted and printed like ink and spread thinly on glass substrates, making them appear much more transparent than solid-state silicon batteries, making organic PV a good choice for solar windows.

These are not giant energy generators — ubiquitous energy estimates that a 3-foot-by-5-foot window with a clear PV coating can generate up to 200 Wh of electricity per day, but electrification of underutilized building products is the real triumph. Given that urban skyscrapers have little space for traditional rooftop solar and thousands of windows, energy offsets are better than nothing.

solar power world We spoke with two transparent solar companies that use organic semiconductors in many successful demonstration projects, suggesting the next few years will be the kickoff point for solar windows.

NEXT Energy Technologies — piloting in 2023

Outdoor apparel company in early 2023 Patagonia announced The company installed solar windows at its headquarters in Ventura, California, furthering the company’s commitment to sustainability. The windows were manufactured and installed by Walters & Wolf, a large commercial window company with operations in the Western United States. Next Energy TechnologiesNext coatings are installed in 22 windows on the south-facing façade of the Patagonia campus, and electricity is used to charge phones and other devices in employee community spaces.

Clear PV coating from Next Energy Technologies installed on a window at Patagonia headquarters.Photo credit: Ethan VanDusen, courtesy of Patagonia

“The great thing about commercial building PV is that it puts power where you need it, when you need it. says Mr.

This Patagonia installation is the first major demonstration project for NEXT, a spin-out from organic semiconductor research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Hoeven said the company sees its potential most in the commercial building market.Working with window manufacturers and installers like Walters & Wolf will bring transparent PV technology to more projects. is the key to

“We are trying to disrupt the market without disrupting the supply chain,” he said. “We have a flat glass manufacturer that makes glass and sells it to window fabricators. We install the frame and install it.Our business model is to enable the existing window manufacturers to make them themselves, so that people can buy their windows from a window manufacturer they can trust, thus reducing the supply chain to zero. No need to rebuild from scratch.”

NEXT’s technology consists of a transparent photovoltaic coating printed on the glass, sealed with a second pane of glass and integrated into a conventional glazing system. By using organic semiconductors, NEXT can absorb more infrared energy than conventional sunlight. This means less semiconductors are needed to generate energy and the coating can be transparent.

“You wouldn’t even know the cells were there. They’re almost invisible,” says Hoven. “There are several busbars at the edge of the glass. Windows in commercial buildings already have frame systems that are particularly well suited for carrying wires. A quick shut-off can be used with a window power optimizer. .They can be connected with string inverters, microinverters, just like ordinary solar power plants, [difference] It’s on the frame that carries those wires.

Due to the electrochromic properties of modern commercial windows, window installers are already accustomed to connecting wires. Commercial building architects and glazing workers are the most ideal customers for Next’s solar window products, but Hoeven says traditional solar installers may also see future opportunities.

“There are a lot of opportunities in this market. Right now we are doing it in the most ordinary way of windows, but there are more opportunities, like whole building façades,” he said. rice field.

Next Energy Technologies will continue to seek window company partners and will work on additional pilot installations in 2023. Although transparent solar technology is not yet in full production, Hoeven said the current political climate around energy efficiency is promising.

“The IRA will have a big impact on this,” he said. “Now the facade of your building can count as solar cells. Let’s make a solar.”

Ubiquitous Energy — Coming to Large Scale Manufacturing by 2025

Solar windows installed at Ubiquitous Energy headquarters

Another university spin-out, Ubiquitous Energy, started 11 years ago at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when researchers were looking for ways to make solar lighter and more flexible. By discovering spectral engineering and organic solar cells, Ubiquitous has developed thin coatings that are completely transparent and colorless.While acknowledging the potential of solar windows in the commercial building market, the recent ubiquitous signed a manufacturing contract Partnered with Andersen, a leading manufacturer of residential windows, for its patented UE Power technology.

“If you just look at the window market, it’s about half residential and half commercial. President Veeral Hardev said.

UE Power in Boulder, Colorado

Ubiquitous is currently manufacturing solar windows on its R&D pilot line in California, installing functional solar windows on exterior façades to power overhead LED lighting. UE Power’s solar windows have also been installed at Michigan State University, a commercial building in Boulder, Colorado, his NSG Pilkington glass development facility in Ohio, and throughout Asia. Already a proven technology of his, Hardev said the relationship with Andersen will allow Ubiquitous to reach residential customers through his highly recognizable Windows brand.

“We believe this, working with someone with a brand reputation and market position, puts a strong stamp of credibility and validity on what we do,” he said. “The next step is to license the technology to manufacturers around the world. We believe this will be the fastest way to deploy this technology globally.”

According to Hardev, many translucent PV products have been released over the years, but Ubiquitous Energy’s product is the “vision glazing” that people actually want to see through.

“We want to look out and be free of color and obstructions. You don’t even know, but it’s getting you all this benefit,” he said.

Homes can use power locally for active window functions or connect to smart home energy settings. Commercial buildings have more window area, so it becomes more logical to net-meter that energy back to the grid. Clearly, UE power windows don’t generate as much power as traditional solar, but as more regions mandate renewable energy installations in new commercial buildings, solar windows can easily fit into a small rooftop solar footprint. It can be an important alternative to

UE power windows with microinverters installed at NSG Pilkington glass development facility in Ohio

“We certify power conversion efficiencies up to 10%, which compares efficiency to conventional solar,” said Hardev. “The good thing about our technology is that it works very much like thin-film solar technology and works very well with off-angle or diffused light. It does not require access to direct sunlight to operate.”

Ubiquitous Energy continues to raise funding to start a dedicated manufacturing line. Hardev said the company hopes to break ground on the line by the end of the year and have the product available for both residential and commercial spaces in the second half of 2025.

“We didn’t really invent or develop any new methods or processes that required the development of new equipment. he said. “Our goal is not to disrupt the overall flow or create unnecessary challenges. We want it to be easy for people to use, install and integrate.”

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