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Published on February 18th, 2013 | by James Ayre

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Solar Glass Buildings Now Possible, Just 10% Increase In Total Building Facade Cost



Huge skyscrapers covered in glass solar cells that able to generate more than enough electricity for their own operations could become common in the future. Oxford Photovoltaics, a solar power company that produces colorful photovoltaic glass specifically for this purpose, recently announced a big boost in investment funding, receiving over £2 million.

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The investment comes from the cleantech investors MTI Partners. It will help to bring the solar glass to the commercial market.

“What we say here is rather than attach 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 meter, meaning the new cell treatment would cost just £60–£100 extra per square meter.”

Turning regular glass into an electricity-generating medium is rather simple. The company simply adds a layer of clear, solid-state solar cells no thicker than three microns. This results in glass that turns about 12% of the solar energy that hits it into electricity.

“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 new investment will specifically allow the creation of a new manufacturing facility, the hiring of new staff, and the purchase of new equipment. The company is aiming to have full-size panels ready for trials by the end of next year. Smaller samples will be available by the end of this year.

In related news, researchers at the University of Sheffield and University of Cambridge have created a method to “spray paint” solar cells onto surfaces, such as roofs and walls (not the first to explore this possibility); and a handful of other groups have also been working on windows that act as solar power generators.

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.”

Both interesting technologies, and both should be available within the next couple of years. It’ll be interesting to see how they fit into the wider, and growing, solar energy revolution.

Source: The Guardian
Image Credit: Oxford Photovoltaics

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



  • Andrew Thaler, Cooma

    Pacific Solar pioneered this application 18 years ago in Sydney, Australia. Their idea involved multiple layers of solar cells stacked like a pancake, and thus had a variable level of light transmission/ absorption. Sorry, this is nothing new…. but after 18 years it would be nice to see this in application.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Yes, waiting for the day it actually hits the commercial market. And thanks for the history. I knew of folks working on this for several or even 10 years, but not the Australian crew of 18 years.

  • http://twitter.com/jorgetxu Guirilandia

    And correct as well the Shard in London! What a waste of glass…

  • hys

    It’s not too late. Please correct the headline!

  • JustSaying

    Read the story before making a head line the cost isn’t “10% Increase In Total Building Cost” its “10% of the cost of the facade.”
    With that head line almost didn’t read the story.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Ugh, correcting. Thanks.

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