What’s New in Architectural Glazing? Check out these innovative solar glass products

What’s New in Architectural Glazing? Check out these innovative solar glass products?

Will solar glass revolutionize the architectural glazing industry?

Not long ago, energy was relatively inexpensive. So naturally, energy efficiency wasn’t a major concern for building designers. Windows were primarily used to bring more natural light into buildings – despite the fact that too much light can result in higher air conditioning bills.

But thanks to rising energy costs, increasing awareness of climate change, and some exciting advances in renewable energy technology, architects and engineers are exploring innovative ways to make buildings more energy efficient – and in some cases fully self-sustaining.

 

One of these innovations is solar glass.

This innovative material combines glass with solar cells to turn windows into electricity generators. But not only that: solar windows can also thermally insulate buildings while controlling light levels inside the building.

There are various solar glass designs under development. One project in Australia is using semi-transparent perovskite solar cells built into double-glazed, vacuum-insulated window units. These units are designed to minimize heat gain the summer and heat loss in the winter, and control internal light levels – all while generating electricity to help power the building.

Perovskite is an interesting material because it can be spray-coated, printed, or painted onto virtually any surface. It can also be fine-tuned to control the color and the amount of light that’s allowed to enter the building. So it’s not only a practical material, but also great for meeting aesthetic goals as well.

And aesthetics might be the key to its success as a mainstay material for architectural glazing: Until recently, solar generating panels were mostly unsightly additions to buildings. Sure, they could generate electricity, but few people would call them beautiful. And they’re usually black, so design options are limited. Perovskite solar cells integrated into glass panes, on the other hand, are basically invisible.

There are still problems to overcome, though, before this product goes mainstream. Perovskite tends to degrade when exposed to fluctuating temperatures and too much moisture. More research is needed to enhance the material’s lifespan. The hope for the project in Australia is that the vacuum-sealed, double-glazed windows will provide enough insulation to protect the perovskite materials from moisture damage.

Another interesting design developed by Ubiquitous Energy harvests the part of the solar spectrum that we can’t see, while letting visible light pass through unhindered. As a result, this solar glass product is completely transparent.

A clever design ‘hack’ is used to achieve total transparency. Instead of harvesting light from the surface of the glass, this design absorbs the light we can’t see (ultraviolet and infrared) and ‘guides’ this light to the edge of the glass, where very thin photovoltaic solar cells convert it to electricity. Currently this design is 1% efficient (compared 7% efficiency for comparable non-transparent designs), but the researchers think they can reach 10%.

One final example: Scientists at Princeton have developed a solar-powered smart window with glazing that can be ‘tuned’ to control both heat and light allowed to enter a building. They claim to be able to cut average building energy costs by 40 percent.

The smart glazing works by absorbing near-UV light to generate the energy needed to automatically control the dimming system. The solar cells are made from an organic semiconductor material with a chemical structure modified to absorb near-UV light and output electricity in the process.

Electrochromic polymers are powered by the electricity produced by the solar cells. So when it’s bright outside, an electrical charge is generated and the window goes from clear to dark blue, blocking more than 80 percent of visible light.

So, where can you buy solar glass for your next project?

The market is still in its infancy. There aren’t many companies selling solar glass (though Onyx Solar is one).

It’s unclear whether any these innovative solar glass products will be commercially viable in the near future, but it’s certainly interesting to think about how these new designs will change the architectural glazing market. Any product that can improve the energetic performance of a building while achieving aesthetic goals is worth keeping an eye on.

We’ll be watching this space closely. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to make sure you get our updates delivered to your inbox.

Primary keyword: glazing news, glazing innovation
Secondary keywords: solar glass, solar glazing, solar glazed glass