Sharp to Launch Windows That Double Up As Solar Panels
Japanese manufacturer Sharp this week announced the arrival of what it hopes will become a common money-saving building material. Its see-through solar panel, or window with built in solar capacity depending on which way you look at it (or indeed through it?) has been designed for use both as windows and balcony infill panels.
The company describes the black panels as semi-transparent and explains that while they are transparent close up, they become more difficult to see through the further from them you are, making them excellent privacy screens too.
They also act as heat shields.
The 10mm thick panels, which measure 1.4 x 1.0 metres, are made from a combination of laminated glass and infused photovoltaic solar cells.
Each panel is capable of delivering a conversion efficiency of 6.8% with a maximum output of 95 watts. This compares to a conversion rate of about 15 to 20% in modern solar (only) panels.
One of the key selling points of the new panels will be their ability to contribute power to the overall building from positions that would not normally be used for solar harvesting.
The panels will be hitting Japanese markets on October 1, when pricing details will also be made available. They will of course cost more than standard glass panels, but even at a significant premium they are one of the options available to architects and building owners to recoup money over time. When we know the pricing, we’ll be able to work out exactly how much time.
In a typical industrialised country, about 40% of its energy consumption can be attributed to its buildings (domestic dwellings and offices).
Most experts agree that by adopting existing technology, design methods and energy efficient materials, the total power requirements of buildings can be at least halved. Without impinging at all on the building’s ability to perform all its functions. Add to this a building’s ability to generate its own power, and it’s not hard to imagine zero energy buildings as the norm.
The problem is, most buildings are constructed and paid for by different people than those upon whose doormats the energy bills land.
For example, triple glazed windows can drastically reduce those monthly bills, but they cost more. The payback period may be less than 10 years on a lifespan of (hopefully) at least ten times that, but there’s still a premium to be paid.
The same logic applies to energy generating equipment and materials.
The solution is probably two-fold. Legislation and tenant/buyer demand.
Developers must be directed by legislation to construct new buildings that not only meet minimum energy performance standards but also have the built-in capacity to generate a certain proportion of their own power from renewable sources such as these solar windows. Most developers will tell you that they have no problem with this approach, as it means everyone has to take on the same additional costs. Plus, with the right management system, data and marketing, a provably more energy efficient building can command higher resale or rental prices.
Tenant/buyer demand: The people upon whose doormats those energy bills are landing are gradually becoming more and more demanding. They have every right to question a building’s energy costs and to demand higher standards. This in turn will encourage the developers and their teams to be more prepared to stump up the extra cash at the outset.
The future: there is no reason on Earth why all our buildings shouldn’t one day soon all have a zero energy rating. A combination of efficient designs and built-in renewable energy capacity is all it would take. The bonus of course being that even the smaller amount of energy they would require, would be coming from a clean sustainable source right on their own doorstep. Or, in the case of Sharp’s new panels, through their windows.
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