An innovative technology that could enable buildings to convert the sun’s energy into electricity without the need for solar panels has been developed by the UK start-up Build Solar.
Using Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) the company has developed a streamlined solar technology that fits neatly into glass blocks. Facades using the innovative product, called Solar Squared, will not only be able to generate electricity while allowing greater amounts of daylight in, but will also provide improved thermal insulation.
Technology has been developed at the University of Exeter led by solar scientist Dr Hasan Baig and world-leading renewable energy scientist Professor Tapas Mallick.
It is hoped that this product, as with other BIPVs, such as the solar tile that has been created by Tesla, will accelerate the widespread introduction of net-zero energy buildings, by allowing buildings to produce their own electricity on-site.
Solar Squared’s design consists of an array of optical elements that focus sunlight on small-sized solar cells. These are incorporated within the glass block during their manufacture and collect a large fraction of diffuse components of sunlight, even when place on the vertical plan, making it particularly useful for capturing solar energy in urban areas.
The modular design is completely scalable, and allows for seamless architectural integration. The streamlined nature of the technology enables it to be embedded in conventional construction materials, meaning that its applications are myriad.
Solar power is considered one of the greenest sources of energy but its development has been hampered by the high costs of installing photovoltaic panels on buildings and their negative visual impact on building architecture. Making construction products that have embedded solar technology is key to unlocking their real potential.
“Deployment of standard solar technology is limited by the large area requirement and the negative visual impact. We wanted to overcome these limitations by introducing technologies that become a part of the building’s envelope.,” says solar scientist Dr Hasan Baig.
“We now have the capability to build integrated, affordable, efficient, and attractive solar technologies as part of the building’s architecture, in places where energy demand is highest, whilst having minimal impact on the landscape and on quality of life.”
With this type of approach, the implication is that many construction materials deployed on the exterior of buildings could become energy-generating. Potentially, making slight adjustments to the manufacturing process of building materials could have a fundamental impact on the planet’s energy requirements.
Solar Squared aims be cheaper than standard glass construction blocks plus the cost of electricity. The company aims to get the product registered on the Building Information Modelling database, which provides a list of all construction products available, their possible uses, and potential energy savings.
Dr Baig says: “I’m currently in discussion with the National Solar Centre and Building Research Establishment to explore opportunities to add these kind of novel products within the Building Information modelling platforms, which will make the product accessible to architects when designing our future buildings around the world.”