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Solar Skyscrapers are Nearly Here


Solar Skyscraper - Photovoltaic Glass

Living skyscrapers? Not quite. While organic solar cells are one of several types of photovoltaics currently being explored, Scientific American reports that work is being done that could lead to windows acting as solar panels, by using a compound very similar to chlorophyll.

Chlorophyll, as we all remember from elementary school, is the green chemical in leaves that turns water and carbon dioxide to oxygen and glucose with the use of sunlight (through a horrible cycle learned once in bio class and then forgotten forever). A chemist by the name of Michael Graetzel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology thinks he can use it to build a better solar cell.

Highly Efficient? You Could Say That

The current cell Graetzel’s team has working has 12% efficiency – while this may not seem particularly high compared to some of the numbers CleanTechnica readers are used to seeing, the fact that the cells are a step toward photovoltaic glass is pretty impressive. The team even thinks they may be able to tweak the dyes in use now to include infrared light and get up to 15% efficiency. This is without mentioning that if a window is producing electricity in addition to being a perfectly good window, it’s pretty darn impressive no matter what the conversion efficiency is.

Graetzel’s team is pretty excited about the possibilities, according to an email sent to Scientific American:

“[The] key benefits are light weight and flexibility as well as transparency and multicolor options for building-integrated photovoltaic glass panels. The new cells will be produced ultimately at significantly lower cost than conventional devices.”

Low-Light-Specific Photovoltaics

Another neat point is that these solar cells perform better when the light is less bright. When the weather is cloudy, or they’re not in direct light, the conversion level would be comparatively high. This characteristic would be particularly useful for photovoltaic glass, particularly on lower floors of a building in, say, downtown Chicago. Michael McGehee of Stanford University explains:

“They may not do as well at noon, but they can perform better earlier and later in the day. For that reason, the gap in performance isn’t as large as it may seem.”

I know many Americans think solar power is great — but how about solar windows?  Let us know what you think in the comments, below.

Source: Scientific American via Climate Denial Crock of the Week | Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Written By

spent 7 years living in Germany and Japan, studying both languages extensively, doing translation and education with companies like Bosch, Nissan, Fuji Heavy, and others. Charis has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She also believes that Janeway was the best Star Trek Captain.


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