We live in an ever-changing world of technology in which the things that we purchase often become obsolete before we know it. We have a throwaway culture that means we’re okay with wastage and we’re happy to invest in a new phone over and over again even if we don’t need one. But where is that getting us..? We’ve been fighting for change but doing so using tech that contributes to the issues we’re trying to eradicate. With that in mind, technology is evolving and becoming more than tools that we use on a daily basis, it’s becoming a passive resource that we take advantage of without even thinking. Solar cell windows are a great example of this change and it’s become even more apparent that they could become more than just a gimmick or the topics of an article.
What are solar cell windows?
Solar cell windows refer to pieces of glass that have been designed to contain technology capable of generating electricity just as a solar panel would, however, just as a traditional window is, these solar cell windows are transparent. While that might not sound plausible and seem slightly farfetched, it’s a really exciting endeavour that could help to change the world!
How they work
The way that the solar cell windows work is rather impressive. They, of course, allow light to pass through them but in doing so they’re also converting the sunlight into electricity for your home or building to use. The solar cell window premise at first sounds tricky, you need to absorb the sunlight to convert it into electricity but also allow sunlight through the window at the same time, so how does that work? Surely it can’t? And that’s an understandable question but there is an explanation.
A traditional solar panel will be made up of photovoltaic cells (these are made of semiconductor materials that are designed to absorb the sunlight. More accurately they absorb the photons that the sun emits) and these are responsible for absorbing sunlight and turning it into electricity for you to use. The way that a solar cell window works is very similar, but the technology is a little more advanced due to there being a need to let visible sunlight through the window and into your home, office, or even a car. Instead, a solar cell window will be able to harness just a portion of the solar spectrum that is invisible to the naked eye and then allow the visible light to pass through the window and illuminate whatever is on the other side. This is done using a transparent luminescent solar concentrator or TLSC for short. TLSC is made of organic salts that have been designed to absorb only specific wavelengths that we can’t see.
Are they worth it?
One of the biggest issues people have with solar panels is that they’re big, ugly, and very expensive. So, the question remains; should we be on the lookout for solar cell windows in the mainstream market? The answer to that isn’t exactly simple and here’s why:
As mentioned, one of the biggest issues that people have with that they’re big and not too pleasant to look at. The idea is that solar cell windows can solve this issue quite easily. You won’t have to place a big panel on your roof or the walls of your property, instead, they‘ll look like a set of windows, just like any other.
This helps to maintain the style that you’re going for with your property which is something that some people find to be a priority.
Here’s where the trouble arises… These kinds of solar cells aren’t as effective as those of a traditional panel. This is down to the light that they’re letting pass through, if they could absorb the entirety of the light just as a normal solar panel, they’d be more efficient than they are. However, their purpose means that they’re less efficient than a normal panel.
The team developing this technology have stipulated that as these become a mainstream product and are being mass-produced, they should deliver an efficiency of almost 10% (9.8%). While you might think that this isn’t anything special because solar panels will range between 15-20%, but this version of solar cell windows holds the highest rating for transparent solar efficiency. But the most important thing is that this technology is invaluable as progression within the energy industry.
To realise its potential, imagine you’re standing in London or New York City and you’re looking up at all of the skyscrapers and buildings that have floor to ceiling windows on each floor. Now compare the efficiency of one of those buildings compared to an equivalent building with only a few solar panels on the roof. The former building will be much more efficient when compared to the latter which is why this is such an important breakthrough.
The cost of these solar cell windows is something that will likely be a deciding factor. In the first phase of creating them, you’re likely to be spending a lot. However, as with most things, as time goes on the price is likely to decrease and they’ll become more affordable.
Unfortunately, as of yet, we’ve not been able to find an accurate estimate of how much these windows are likely to cost in the future but it’s not unreasonable to assume that they’ll cost considerably more than a traditional solar panel. This is because you’ll be purchasing the added benefit of not having to have solar panels on your roof.
So, are solar cell windows something that we can look forward to in the near future? I suppose we’ll have to eagerly wait and see what happens. If we had to give you a rough estimate, I’d say that you’re likely to be waiting more than 5 years before we start to see them being utilised properly by cities. This is because many will be waiting for them to reduce in cost so that they can afford to make this kind of upgrade. The cost associated with having to not only replace all of the windows in your building but also invest in the technology and purchase solar cell windows is likely to be huge. However, after the technology has progressed and become cheaper to create, I do think that people will be turning to the tech for its properties when updating their homes or building a new home. The same goes for developers of both commercial and domestic buildings; I do think that they’ll end up utilising solar cell windows in new build homes.
Rob has been running ABS Ltd for some time now and he’s managed to change the industry for the better. Being the UK’s leading aluminium bending specialists, ABS Ltd has been able to create bespoke windows for both domestic and commercial buildings giving them leading insight into specialist designs, premium styles and the latest in renewable window technology.