Re-Imagining the Solar Panel

What if every surface around us had the ability to generate and produce its own renewable energy?

It’s a question that was posed during a virtual presentation by Miles Barr, co-founder and chief technology officer of Ubiquitous Energy, at this year’s Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) conference, which is taking place this week.

During is session, Barr said the answer to this question is found in transparent solar technology, which is “simply, a see-through version of a solar panel that generates electricity from sunlight.”

Traditional solar technology, as Barr explained, absorbs UV, visible light and infrared light. The fact that they capture visible light is what gives the panels the common black and blue color, which can also be a disadvantage, especially when concerning aesthetics.

Ubiquitous Energy decided to reinvent the panel to visualize how it would look if it selectively captured the nonvisible light – the UV and infrared light. This resulted in a solar panel that looked like an ordinary piece of architectural glass. Barr said the technology can be thought of as low-E glass that generates electricity and also fits into the standard low-E glass manufacturing process. Additional steps are taken to convert to transparent PV coating and encapulate the glass.

These panels have been produced and installed as a commercial façade at the Ubiquitous Energy headquarters, located in Redwood City, Calif.,to power the lighting, offsetting the general electricity consumption of the building through the power generated through the windows.

The discussion also led to the topics of smart homes and using the solar technology to gain greater access to the smart offerings. Smart home features can allow homeowners to monitor and automate their homes, usually from their smartphones. The company takes advantage of the smart home industry to conceptualize smart windows. Barr explains that resitendial smart windows could adjust transparency/tint depending on lighting, provide security features and sense the environment so they close if it were to rain.

Hardwiring and battery-operating electronics have high upfront costs and can be impractical, according to Barr. Electronics would be assembled and inegrated into the glass unit to achieve a smart home ecosystem without compromising aesthetics. “So, having solar onboard allows you to power features without the need for replacing batteries or without the need for hardwiring your window… there’s a lot of opportunity to enable new window designs.”

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