Converting Sunlight to Electricity with Clear Solar Glass

In today's climate, energy and how we use it is a primary concern in the design of built spaces. Buildings currently contribute nearly 40% to global carbon emissions and with a projected growth of 230 billion square meters in construction before the end of 2060, the focus on construction decarbonization efforts should be paramount.

Solar electric and wind power systems have been in use for decades, but only now has the idea of turning windows into solar panels become a reality, through companies such as ClearVue. Their patented technology and ClearVue PV product offer the first truly clear solar glass on the market, and available to purchase now, which promises to fill cities with buildings that actively reduce energy usage while also generating electricity to contribute to building running costs.

The window system facilitates this process by allowing visible light to pass through a pane of glass, while the invisible wavelengths of light are deflected to the edges of the glass where they are converted into electricity. To the naked eye, the product looks just like regular glass, but with the unique ability to harnesses the power of the sun, which turns any building into an energy-generating solar array.

Classified as a Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) system, ClearVue’s solar PV windows are integrated within a building’s envelope, as opposed to conventional PV systems where modules had to be mounted on the top of existing roofs. This has a dual benefit: clear solar glass serves as an energy-efficient window product for any building, but also generates electricity for on-site use or export to the grid. This can provide savings in materials and electricity costs, reduce pollution, and add to the architectural appeal of a building.

Lance Wheeler from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado estimates houses and office buildings account for 75% of electricity use in the United States, and 40% of its energy use overall.

Taking these statistics into consideration, it is staggering to imagine how much solar electricity could be generated worldwide if all the windows in homes and commercial offices helped to power the buildings they were installed in. This technology has the potential to change the way that buildings can impact their surroundings - reducing reliance on fossil fuels using sustainable localized clean energy. Another key market for ClearVue is clear solar greenhouses and protected cropping agriculture, as well as potential in diverse applications such as automobiles, public utilities, public transport, and mobile electronic devices.

ClearVue has OEM manufacturing partners in China and a licensed manufacturer in the US, and their projects are beginning to build traction all over the world in a diverse range of applications. In July 2020, ClearVuePV signed an LOI with a US-based theme park developer to supply self-powered, dynamically switchable solar windows for a proposed ‘Wild West’ themed entertainment park. ClearVue has also signed a distributor in Sao-Paolo, is supplying its glass to a greenhouse project for a winery in Japan and launched the world’s first totally clear solar glass greenhouse on 19 April 2021 at Murdoch University, Western Australia.

Converting Sunlight to Electricity with Clear Solar Glass - Image 6 of 7
Greenhouse project at Murdoch University

What’s the functional benefit?

  • It offers the aesthetic and functional needs for building design with the benefit of costing less in the long term through its incentives and unique tax benefits:
    • Carbon Embodiment Payback Period ~ 9 years (much lower in some cases)
    • Financial paybacks can be less than 1 year in the United States

  • Has very high levels of transparency for a product combining so many features - up to 70% of visible natural light passes through the visually clear glass, that is color neutral with high visual transmittance, while the unwanted wavelengths of UV and IR are used for power generation.

  • Has high power generation potential for a window - production of up to 40W / m2 (peak).

  • Reduces building electricity costs – the glass is double/triple glazed with a Low-E coating, which improves building insulation; on-site electricity generation lowers electricity bills and network infrastructure costs, particularly in remote areas.

  • Integrates with other smart building systems - localized power at the floor level through a building's glazing allows power to be deployed for use in smart facade applications and into smart building-integrated control systems, combined with IoT sensors integrated into the glass or window.

  • Is able to block 100% UV radiation - the internal components of ClearVue windows (interlayer materials, low-emissivity coating, and the glass panes themselves) serve to significantly absorb and/or reflect the incoming UV rays, leading to more than 99.9% blockage of solar UV energy penetration into buildings. This helps protect the personnel, furniture, and equipment from long-term UV exposure. It also contributes to a longer life of the PV cells which are otherwise affected by the high-energy UV rays.

  • Provides superior building occupant comfort with perfect views, natural daylighting, and internet-enabled control over the transparency of individual windows using either electrochromic technologies or integrated blinds.

  • Superior thermal and noise (37dB) insulation.

ClearVue Technologies is proud to be part of the solution to decarbonization in the construction industry by bringing clear solar glass with measurable carbon benefits to the market. With many jurisdictions in the EU, US, and Asia now setting aggressive net-zero targets and deadlines, some as early 2030, now is the perfect time to start building better with clear solar windows.

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Cite: "Converting Sunlight to Electricity with Clear Solar Glass" 30 Apr 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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