Judhajit Chakraborty, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP WSP Built Ecology
1. ClearView Power™: PV’s are getting transparent. Yes that’s right, past MIT researchers and current entrepreneurs, Miles Barr, Ian Millard, Vladimir Bulovic and Richard Lunt are making transparent solar cells that could turn everyday products such as windows and electronic devices into power generators— without altering how they look or function. How? Their new breakthrough in solar cells absorb only infrared and ultraviolet light, thereby only letting visible light pass through the cells unobstructed, so our eyes don’t know they’re there. They estimate that this technology of using PV coated windows in a skyscraper could provide more than a quarter of the building’s energy needs without changing its look. They’re now beginning to integrate their solar cells into consumer products, including mobile device displays and have started a venture called Ubiquitous Energy (http://ubiquitous.energy/).
Current versions of the ClearView transparent PV cells transmit more than 70% of the visible light, which is within the range of tinted glass now used in the windows of buildings. But their tested efficiency is very low—only about 2%, but they are working on it. In theory, their design should realistically be able to reach over 12% efficiency, comparable to that of existing commercial solar panels. This will be challenging, but they believe they can do it by carefully optimizing the composition and configuration of the PV materials. The other challenge is the longevity of PV. In commercial applications such as window coatings, the solar cells need to continue performing well for many decades. With many industries tackling the same issue, the team believes that this engineering problem should be solved in the coming years, and their solar cells should be guaranteed to have a commercially viable lifespan. And this may well be a game changer in the PV industry.
2. Project Sunroof by Google: Until now you had used Google for comparing air-fares, hotel fares and for umpteen searches, now Google lets you weigh the costs and benefits of installing solar panels on your rooftop through its new online tool ” Project Sunroof” (https://www.google.com/get/sunroof#). This new tool, now available for select cities in CA, AZ, NV, CO, CT, NY, NJ, NC and MA, requires a user to enter the home address and it computes how much sunlight hits your roof in a year. It takes into account:
• Google earth’s database of aerial imagery and maps
• 3D solar radiation modeling of your roof
• Shadows cast by nearby structures and trees
• All possible sun positions over the course of a year
• Historical cloud and temperature patterns that might affect solar energy production
Project Sunroof then computes the savings by using the current solar industry pricing data to run the numbers on leasing, taking a loan, or buying solar panels for your house to help you choose what’s best for you. Not only that, it also compiles the following incentives to calculate the final PV cost.
• Federal and state tax credits
• Utility rebates
• Renewable energy credits and net metering
Project Sunroof is a faster, simpler way of sizing up possible pros and cons of solar than calling someone for a site evaluation or using the more complex calculator offered by the U.S. Energy Department