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Colourful 'Solar Glass' Means Entire Buildings Can Generate Clean Power

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British firm develops colourful, transparent solar cells that will add just 10% to glass buildings' cost

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JL A (281)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 8:41 am

Colourful 'solar glass' means entire buildings can generate clean power

British firm develops colourful, transparent solar cells that will add just 10% to glass buildings' cost

Adam Vaughan, Tuesday 12 February 2013 12.05 EST

Dr. Henry Snaith from Oxford photovoltaics holding glass with printed solar cell
Oxford Photovoltaics uses non-toxic organic solar cell materials printed directly on to glass to produce clean energy. Photograph: Oxford Photovoltaics

A solar power company capable of "printing" colourful glass that can generate electricity from the sun's energy announced a 2m funding boost on Tuesday.

Oxford Photovoltaics, a spin-off from the University of Oxford, said the investment from clean-tech investors MTI Partners will help its solar glass, which can be dyed almost any colour, take a step closer to the commercial market.

"What we say here is rather than attach [solar] photovoltaics to the building, why not make the building the photovoltaics?" Kevin Arthur, the company's founder and CEO, told the Guardian. "If you decide to build a building out of glass, then you've already decided to pay for the glass. If you add this, you're adding a very small extra cost. [The solar cell treatment] costs no more than 10% of the cost of the facade."

These generally cost between 600 and 1,000 per square metre, meaning the new cell treatment wouild cost just 60-100 extra per square metre.

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.

"Within reason we can print any colour, there's a wide range of dyes, blues and greens and reds and so on. But different colours have different efficiencies: black is very high, green is pretty good and red is good, but blue is less good," said Arthur.

The 2m investment will pay for equipment and recruiting staff for the company's new base on the Begbroke Science Park near Oxford. The company is looking to build a much larger manufacturing facility next year, with full size panels available for sampling and trials at the end of 2014. A4-sized samples will be ready by the end of 2013. While the company is mostly targeting customers planning new buildings, it also "very interested" in retrofits on the facades of existing buildings.

Separately, a team at the University of Sheffield and University of Cambridge this week said they had succeeded in developing a process to 'spray paint' solar cells on to surfaces and, potentially in the future, roofs and buildings. The teams believe the process could significantly cut the cost of solar in the future, but currently only works on "very smooth" surfaces and is less efficient than conventional solar panels.

Professor David Lidzey from the University of Sheffield said: "Spray coating is currently used to apply paint to cars and in graphic printing. We have shown that it can also be used to make solar cells using specially designed plastic semiconductors. Maybe in the future surfaces on buildings and even car roofs will routinely generate electricity with these materials."

Solar power worldwide reached 100GW installed capacity last year for the first time, up from 71GW in 2011 and just 40GW in 2010, according to recent trade body figures.

Sue H (7)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 8:42 am
I am most impressed! Bring it on.

Roger Skinner (14)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 9:36 am
Great idea! Should be made mandatory for all construction once it is perfected.

Sonia M (60)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 10:14 am
Great news.Thanks for sharing

Stephen Brian (23)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 10:26 am
It's interesting, but I do have some concerns:
Organic materials tend to break down (or be eaten by bacteria) when exposed to outdoor conditions for significant time. That the PV dye is non-toxic leaves me seriously doubting the durability of this system.

Also, these things get ~12% efficiency, but I highly doubt that is in watts of electricity produced per watt of sunlight striking the glass: Far more likely, it is in watts of electricity produced per watt of sunlight blocked by hte glass which, in the case of a semi-transparent material, can be significantly less. (This would be why the darker and lower frquency colours are more efficient.) Another issue in its efficiency is that windows tend to be vertical, taking in sunlight that strikes the building horizontally (or the horizontal component of sunlight which strikes diagonally). Even on windows which are well above the surrounding buildings (to avoid being in the shade when hte sun is near rising or setting), these are only going to get large flux at specific times of day. I just don't see much power coming from this being put on the sides of buildings. The roofs would be more efficient, but they don't have quite that much surface-area.

Also, apparently "regular plate glass" is ~$210 per square meter:

JL A (281)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 10:58 am
You cannot currently send a star to Sonia because you have done so within the last week.
Perhaps those issues are being addressed in this next phase of research Stephen

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 12:45 pm
All these glass buildings around the world you think they would have thought of that idea a long time ago Will be great if it works though In Oxford Street ! Dont you have to have heaps of sun lol !

Noted Thanks

Angelika R (143)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 12:57 pm
there will certainly be more development needed but it does not sound bad so far. What about "shock/ quake-proof" btw? You canot build ENTIRELY on glass after all. But every new innovative step in the right direction is surely welcome! Thx JL

JL A (281)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 1:13 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Carol because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Angelika because you have done so within the last week.

Valentina R (12)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 1:36 pm
Brilliant idea, kudos.

Sharon W. (4)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 2:12 pm
Great idea! This makes me hopefu for the future :)

. (0)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 2:30 pm
Great idea indeed.

JL A (281)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 2:53 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Valentina because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Sharon because you have done so within the last week.
You cannot currently send a star to Michael because you have done so within the last week.

Onita Northington (44)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 3:49 pm
Great idea if it actual does work.

Terry V (30)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 5:26 pm
Very impressive. Thanks!

JL A (281)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 5:46 pm
I agree Terry. You are welcome. You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last week.

Talya H (10)
Saturday February 16, 2013, 11:23 pm

Stephen Brian (23)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 12:16 am
Hi JLA :)

Except for two, the problems I mentioned cannot be fixed by research. They're straight scientific limitations on the technique. Nothing will change the geometry of the building, nor will anything allow the sunlight to be used both for electricity and vision.

The durability problem is definitely one of active research. I know a professor who is workng on it. I think there may actually be a solution right now, but that could boost the cost subtantially. I read about a type of plastic wrap, very thin and flexible, which hardens under pressure. It's apparently bulletproof at only a tenth of a millimeter thickness. If that stuff is clear (and I think it is), then it could be used to coat the glass over the PV dye, and protect it from both scratches and bacteria. That doesn't necessarily mean it won't break down because a lot of organic molecules are inherently unstable, but it means this thing might, possibly, not fall apart before it can pay itself off.

The efficiency problem has been one of active research as long as there have been PV cells. It would take a real breakthrough for much to happen on that front at this point.

Ben O (171)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 2:55 am
Right; -Bring it on!!!

Ram Reddy (7)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 3:30 am

JL A (281)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 6:52 am
The propensity for open or public space with trees in cities (e.g., NYC) in planning requirements for new buildings can fix the concerns you identified as not fixable by research Stephen.
You cannot currently send a star to Ben because you have done so within the last week.

Kay M (347)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 8:22 am

Ro H (0)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 8:33 am

g d c (0)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 9:47 am

Michael O (176)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 11:02 am
This is an excellent new development! Thanks for sharing this J.L.!

JL A (281)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 11:32 am
You are welcome a y and Michael!

S S (0)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 12:17 pm
Thank you.

Lin Penrose (92)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 1:21 pm
Thanks J.L. Reads like it does offer some real improvements in building materials and solar energy use. Think more testing will be necessary. Sure would like to see it here in the U.S. as a testing ground where so many buildings are being replaced or new residential homes are being built. Just as long as there are no GMO vegetation/plants being used for photosynthesis in the glass. That, of course, brings up more questions.

JL A (281)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 1:32 pm
You are welcome Shanti.

Stephen Brian (23)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 8:44 pm
Yup, different city-planning can change the geometry. That can bring its own problems, though: The economy demands that certain infrastructure be built, so leaving spaces open in a city means more urban sprawl and larger distances to travel within the city. It also can't really be done without serious repercussions in an already-built city, so renovations to existing structures won't be able to address geometric problems.

Another nice thing I just noticed is that the human eye is most sensitive to red light, which is also the least efficient for solar power. It might lend a slightly disturbing air to the interior of the building by shading everything red, but if those windows are mostly semi-transparent red, that could allow for relatively efficient (as far as this setup can go) power-generation without stopping people from seeing what they are doing.

JL A (281)
Sunday February 17, 2013, 8:50 pm
So far New York hasn't found that to be true Stephen--and there isn't anywhere to sprawl but the ocean there. Thanks for the extra information about light spectrum sensitivities.

Anna M (18)
Monday February 18, 2013, 6:46 am
most excellent!!
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