By Veeral Hardev – Vice President of Strategy, Ubiquitous Energy
There is growing demand to expand our global renewable energy portfolio. Indeed, the needs are obvious, limiting our reliance on fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, the most widely deployed renewable energy technologies, wind and solar, both require tradeoffs; for instance, they require a lot of land and they have significant aesthetic drawbacks.
What if there was a way to deploy a significant amount of clean, renewable energy without the need for additional space and infrastructure? A potential solution is transparent solar.
Read more of our July-August Issue, here; Transforming downstream for a cleaner energy future
What is transparent solar?
It works in a similar way as does conventional opaque solar. This technology absorbs and converts sunlight into useful electricity. However, with transparent solar only the invisible portion of sunlight (ultraviolet and infrared) transforms into electricity. Also, the visible light that we can see passes right through.
This technology can therefore be deployed onto almost any surface that sees sunlight without impacting its appearance; thus, turning the infrastructure all around us into “invisible” solar panels.
For instance, a few applications include turning the window glass in commercial buildings into vertical solar farms; also, complementing or expanding the amount of renewable energy that residential and multi-family homes produce. Besides, even helping to increase battery life when deployed onto the glass of electric and hybrid vehicles.
In fact, the potential scale transparent solar can have on our energy infrastructure and built environment can be put into perspective by looking at the scale of the architectural glass industry.
The potentialities and applications
According to the glass industry organization, Glass Performance Days, approximately 26 billion square feet of coated architectural glass (think windows and glass facades) are under installation and production annually.
Indeed, if this glass were coated with transparent solar during the glass manufacturing process, that would result in ~600,000 acres of transparent solar per year; or additional production capacity roughly equivalent to the surface area of conventional solar panels installed in 2020 (~127 GW according to the International Renewable Energy Agency).
Therefore, that would mean doubling the area of solar installed each year by simply piggybacking off the glass under manufacture and installation in buildings.
Not only could transparent solar have a significant impact in increasing the global solar capacity; but it can also be done in a way that is seamless, convenient, and efficient. In fact, it can be deployed on-site where the energy is needed and consumed in buildings. Also, according to the US Department of Energy, buildings consume 40% of our electricity and account for just as much of our global greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy efficiency and emissions reduction
By deploying transparent solar directly onto the vertical surfaces of buildings we can offset a significant portion of a building’s energy consumption. Also, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process; and using real estate that would otherwise be passive and unavailable for energy generation.
So, when will transparent solar be ready and available? Companies such as Ubiquitous Energy are leading the charge in the development and commercialization of transparent solar. Also, there are some solar glass products already on the market; but the available products all have some type of tradeoff that is limiting their adoption.
Finally, truly transparent solar is the key to broad industry adoption; already deployed in pilot scale installations, it is expected to be commercially available in 2023.