This technology turns windows into solar panels, here’s how

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This article is brought to you by The European Sting in partnership with the World Economic Forum.

By Victoria Masterson, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • Solar windows look like regular glass windows, but just like solar panels, generate electricity from the sun.
  • Transparent solar panels were pioneered at Michigan State University and are now being installed commercially.
  • It is estimated that there are 5 to 7 billion square meters of glass surface in the United States alone.

Imagine if your windows were transparent solar panels?

This will mean that homes, offices and entire cities can use their windows to generate electricity sustainably from solar energy.

Transparent solar panels that look like glass aren’t just a pipe dream. They are already in use – and have enormous potential to help meet the world’s energy needs from renewable sources.

What is a transparent solar panel?

Transparent solar panels look like clear glass, letting light through like regular windows.

But they are made with a type of solar glass that absorbs ultraviolet and infrared light — invisible to the naked eye — and converts them into renewable electricity.

Researchers at Michigan State University developed the first fully transparent solar panel in 2014.

What do solar windows mean to the world?

The MSU team believes that solar windows and related transparent solar technologies could meet about 40 percent of the U.S. energy needs.

Combined with rooftop solar installations, this could rise to almost 100%.

With so much glass in the world, the potential is huge.

Skyscrapers could become solar farms

It is estimated that there are 5 to 7 billion square meters of glass surface in the United States alone.

Skyscrapers, for example, have “substantial amounts of glass surfaces,” noted solar publication Solar Energy Magazine.

The magazine added that the potential for a building like this to harness the sun to generate clean, renewable energy is enormous.

For example, Ubiquitous Energy, an American solar window specialist, said it plans to turn skyscrapers into “vertical solar farms” by installing solar windows, business news channel CNBC reported.

The California-based company expects to begin mass production of floor-to-ceiling transparent solar windows for buildings in 2024.

Ubiquitous Energy was co-founded by Richard Lunt, the chemical engineer responsible for MSU’s transparent solar cell development.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have also been developing transparent solar cells for years.

Europe is opening up to solar windows

Solar windows are also taking off in Europe.

A Dutch company called Physee says it is installing 15,000 “SmartWindows” in office buildings across Europe. These windows contain power-generating solar cells and sensor technology that help manage the building’s energy use and comfort. These windows will reduce building energy costs by up to 30 percent, Physee said.

Copenhagen International School, a day school in Denmark, is already using transparent solar panels. Engineering website Interesting Engineering explains that the building is covered by 12,000 “clearly tinted” solar panels.

These provide 200 megawatts of electricity annually—more than half of the energy the building consumes.

Solar glass has advantages over solar panels

A key advantage of solar glass (also known as photovoltaic glass) is that it takes up less space than traditional solar panels.

Installing conventional solar panels can be difficult in cities with many buildings and limited space, explains Interesting Engineering.

On the other hand, transparent solar panels can be widely installed even in crowded cities, helping buildings and cities achieve net-zero climate goals.

As solar glass engineer Richard Lunt explains: “You can turn nearly every surface of a building or landscape into a solar array and generate electricity where you use it without even knowing it’s there.”

Sustainability Impact Conference

Solar windows demonstrate how technology can unlock sustainable development – progress that protects rather than threatens people and the planet.

This month, the World Economic Forum will host a series of conferences on sustainable development and global progress towards sustainable development.

The Forum’s Sustainability Impact Conference from 19-23 September 2022 will bring together business leaders, policymakers, innovators, and international and civil society organizations to advance the work of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These are the 17 global goals for sustainable development, including ending poverty and hunger, tackling climate change and ensuring everyone has access to clean and affordable energy.

All 193 member states of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 and will achieve them by 2030.

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