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Engineering Materials
Solar Cells Help Windows Generate Electricity
8/15/2012

A new kind of polymer solar cell that is almost 70 percent transparent to the human eye could give windows the ability to generate electricity by absorbing mostly infrared, not visible, light.   (Source: UCLA)
A new kind of polymer solar cell that is almost 70 percent transparent to the human eye could give windows the ability to generate electricity by absorbing mostly infrared, not visible, light.
(Source: UCLA)

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Beth Stackpole
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Another reason windows key to energy bill savings
Beth Stackpole   8/15/2012 8:34:33 AM
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If these solar cells can really be effective in generating electricity--and consquently saving lots on an energy bill--what a boon for consumers. I would hope that if the technology reaches the commercialization stage that the makers offer both windows with the technology baked in, but also some sort of upgrade or modification kit for those of us who own homes and don't want to go through the expense of subbing out existing windows for new models. That is a major, major project.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Another reason windows key to energy bill savings
Ann R. Thryft   8/15/2012 12:20:47 PM
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I wouldn't mind having those windows, either, even here in the woods. There are various types of films that can be added to windows that purport to do something similar. Here are some recent ones: http://www.pcworld.com/article/241152/3m_film_turns_windows_into_transparent_solar_panels.html http://cleantechnica.com/2012/07/06/39893/ http://www.newenergytechnologiesinc.com/technology/solarwindow

kf2qd
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It all comes down to cost..
kf2qd   8/15/2012 12:23:32 PM
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At 4% efficiency, and a practical application on the south side of office buildings, cost is going to be the deciding factor. Let's hope that taxpayers don't get stuck funding this as the total outpput could be rather restricted.

williamlweaver
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Re: Another reason windows key to energy bill savings
williamlweaver   8/15/2012 2:08:05 PM
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Wikipedia has a nice article on Photosynthetic efficiency
 
It's sources report the following efficiencies for conversion of sunlight into biomass (usable energy)
 
Plants 0.1% - 2 %
Crops 1% - 2%
Sugarcane 7% - 8%
 
At 4%, this device is on the high-side when compared to energy-harvesting bio-fuels. With even more development, this material could be quite a winner -- and we could continue to use our corn and soybeans to feed people and livestock rather than engines...


Scott Orlosky
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Re: Another reason windows key to energy bill savings
Scott Orlosky   8/15/2012 4:10:56 PM
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This is a really cool development.  The real key (costs aside) will be integration of "power windows" into a local smart grid. In this case local would mean within the confines of the building that the windows are installed in.  What a great way to harvest power for low voltage lighting, though.

mrdon
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Re: Another reason windows key to energy bill savings
mrdon   8/15/2012 4:35:08 PM
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Beth.

I agree with you totally. This idea of adding solar cell polymer material to windows is the best one yet for generating electricity. With the amount of sunlight passing through windows daily, I would imagine sufficient amounts of electricity can be generated easily. The next item to include in the energy conversion process is an innovative way to store the energy for use on cloudy days.

tekochip
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Re: It all comes down to cost..
tekochip   8/15/2012 4:44:14 PM
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I agree entirely.  With a consumer grade cell at 15%, a 4% cell that will probably not be properly aligned is going to need to be fairly cheap.  Don't get me wrong, I love solar, I even converted my lawn mower to solar.  The idea of a window that still functions as a window while collecting solar energy is fantastic, but if each window only collects 1Wh for a sunny day, the window will need to be as cheap as glass.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: It all comes down to cost..
Rob Spiegel   8/15/2012 5:59:46 PM
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I would guess the most efficient use of this technology would be on high-rise office buildings. The tall buildings have acres of windows, far more per square foot than a private residence.

Charles Murray
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Re: Another reason windows key to energy bill savings
Charles Murray   8/15/2012 6:37:50 PM
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Energy harvesting technologies are well-known to produce really tiny amounts of electrical current -- at the microamp- and even nanoamp-level in some cases. Any idea how much these films could produce, Ann?

Beth Stackpole
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Re: It all comes down to cost..
Beth Stackpole   8/16/2012 8:44:36 AM
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Commercial buildings would be a great application and these mega buildings also have some sort of budget which would allow them to invest in the storage capabilities that are so critical to making this effective. Especially since many mega buildings in cities (I'm thinking NYC) have lots of self-induced shade due to their size and number--a factor that could limit the windows' ability to harvest energy even on sunny days.

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