window solar panels
Thomas Nelson
Thomas Nelson
April 1, 2020 ·  3 min read

California-Based Company Develops Clear Solar Panels

Getting solar panels installed on your roof is a real gold standard when it comes to being green. Of course, solar panels aren’t the only way to generate your own power. In 2016, Elon Musk unveiled that his company, SolarCity, would begin manufacturing solar shingles that resemble regular roof shingles, unlike the large, bulky conventional panels.

Now, another company wants your home to generate solar power in an entirely new way: with solar panel windows. Ubiquitous Energy, a Redwood City, California-based startup has developed a new kind of transparent solar cell that lets light through all while producing green, renewable electricity. According to Ubiquitous Energy, any glass surface, like the windows of a home or even a skyscraper, can be used to produce energy.

“It can be applied to windows of skyscrapers; it can be applied to glass in automobiles; it can be applied to the glass on your iPhone,” Miles Barr, Ubiquitous Energy’s founder and chief technology officer, said in an interview with CNN Business. [2]

Clear solar panels are a fairly new technology and kind of a lot to wrap your head around. How exactly do they work anyway? According to Barr, the glass is coated with an organic dye that allows sunlight to pass through but captures the sun’s infrared rays.

“Light absorbing dyes are found all around us. They’re in paints, they’re in pigments for clothing, and they’re even in electronic devices,” Barr said. “What we’ve done is we’ve engineered those dyes to selectively absorb infrared light and also convert that light into electricity.”

But according to Anne Grete Hestnes, a professor of architecture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and a specialist in solar energy, there are some drawbacks. Namely, inefficiency.

“Their basic drawback is their relatively low efficiency,” Professor Hestnes said. “However, it is all a question of price. If the transparent cells are cheaper, and if the cells are to cover a relatively large area … it may be the better solution.”

But Barr says that Ubiquitous Energy’s clear glass solar panels are still effective, producing up to two-thirds of the energy that a rooftop panel would. And even though they’re more expensive than a traditional rooftop panel, they still pay for themselves in energy savings.

Ubiquitous energy sees their clear glass solar panels for windows as a way to generate power in addition to rooftop panels, allowing customers to produce even more energy on-site than ever before and reducing how much energy larger buildings, like skyscrapers, draw from the grid.

“We are already installing and selling ClearView Power windows in limited sizes, and we’re in the planning phase for a facility that we’ll be able to produce windows at any size,” Barr said.

In 2019, The Atlantic reported that America’s coal consumption had entered a “free fall.” [3] In his article for The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes:

“American coal consumption plunged last year, reaching its lowest level since 1975, as electrical utilities switched to cheaper natural gas and renewables. Over the past decade and a half, coal’s collapse has saved tens of thousands of lives nationwide, according to new research, and cut national greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 10 percent.”

And solar is stepping in to replace some of that coal power.

According to the SEIA, there are 77.7 gigawatts of solar currently installed in the United States – enough to power more than 14.5 million homes. [4] Around the United States, there are 2.3 million solar installations that range from small rooftop systems that you might see in your neighborhood or massive, utility-scale systems that supply hundreds, if not thousands of homes with clean energy.

Barr sees technologies like Ubiquitous Energy’s clear solar panels helping increase the amount of energy produced by solar power in the United States and elsewhere.

“We really see the future of this technology as being applied everywhere, all around us, ubiquitous,” Barr said.

Keep Reading: Secretive Energy Startup Backed by Bill Gates Achieves Solar Breakthrough.