Sustainability Week on WCN: Electricity-generating windows

Vania Goncalves 12 Oct 2016 NORTH AMERICA EQUIPMENT & TECHNOLOGY

“SolarWindow is attempting to make history by developing what may be the single-biggest breakthrough in the clean energy industry in a long time,” says John Conklin, president and CEO of SolarWindow Technologies, when referring to the company’s vision of an electricity-generating window.

The technology will enable windows to generate electricity from the sun and artificial light, using  first-of-a-kind transparent and flexible electricity-generating veneers which feature a fastening system on one side and a transparent electricity-generating coating on the other.

According to the US-based company, the process of converting an existing passive window into an electricity-generating one is pretty straightforward.  The veneers would be cut to size on location by the installers, and the fastening system and coating would be attached to the existing glass.

The electricity generated would then be directed — using a proprietary interconnection system — into the building’s electrical system or connected directly to fixtures for use.

Conklin says: “The technology is simple. We take an ordinary piece of glass and we apply our electricity-generating coatings which generate electricity while maintaining transparency.

“The technology has a number of different layers which work together to generate electricity, move that electricity off the surface and then onto wires into the building for connection. Those layers are made from hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen.”

Specific power requirements can be also achieved by changing the colour and transparency of the coatings. “We can tune the power by adjusting the colour and the level of transparency, and as a result of that we have a SolarWindow coating that has a high visible transmission and is organic,” says Conklin.

He adds: “Our goal is to develop a package that maintains the performance during the warranty life of a commercial window.”

The electricity-generating veneers can be applied directly on to existing windows of homes, commercial and office buildings or skyscrapers — it is estimated that in the US there is over 40M sq m of windows, according to SolarWindow.      

The company has also developed proprietary, patent-pending, electricity-generating liquid coatings to be applied to new glass during high-speed manufacturing.

SolarWindow module is being developed in neutral colours.

The idea

The concept goes back to the year 2008, when the company was still named New Energy Technologies — it changed its name in 2015 to more clearly present itself and the technology.  

“That whole idea was based on an OLED device that can generate electricity and is organic,” says Conklin.
 
He adds: “The thought back then was if we can modify the organic structure of the compound used to generate that light, can we then change it in such a way that we can apply it to glass and flexible materials so that we can generate electricity on those surfaces.

“At that time, the little speck of coating that was put on the glass was about one quarter of the size of a grain of rice, very small, but the whole objective there was to be able to generate a little spark, a little voltage to prove that we can generate electricity under light.”       
    
And the proof of concept was a success: “We applied it on glass and we had that little spark that showed us that it can work.”

The proof of concept and research phases are now in the past — after about 7 years — as the company has entered into product development. “We are still in the development stage and are working to have a commercial product ready for manufacturing by the end of 2017,” says Conklin. 

He adds: “We aspire to work with the industry to have SolarWindow installed on select buildings after commercialization. We will have more information about test installations in the near future, to be modeled for individuals to observe and see what the power production is and then full-scale production will come after that commercial-ready product.”

SolarWindow is working with strategic partners in the glass manufacturing industry, the window fabrication industry and the chemical industry to “license the technology and know-how of SolarWindow”.

“The company does not have any plans to start-up a manufacturing facility so we will be licensing that to industries that have the processes in place […] to deploy it to buildings, tall towers and skyscrapers throughout the world,” says Conklin.

Dr. Scott Hammond, principal scientist, working on SolarWindow veneers.

The advantages

One of the key features of this technology is that it is not be only able to generate electricity from the sunlight, but also from artificial light — indirect, diffused and shaded light.

Conklin says: “What’s really wonderful about the technology is that we don’t need sunlight to generate electricity, we can use artificial light, which now brings the opportunity to bring SolarWindow inside the building.”

The electricity-generating veneers will be able to reduce electricity’s cost by up to 50% annually.

Conklin adds: “The important idea to keep in mind is that we generate 50 times more energy than the energy that comes from a rooftop solar.

“But within this there is also other greenhouse gas offset benefits associated with carbon dioxide that are also really important. We could look at a 50-storey building and see that the number of homes that are offset in any one year is almost 15 times more the number of homes that we would see for that same rooftop array on that skyscraper.”

Furthermore, it can provide less than one-year financial payback.

The advantages for such technology seem to be self-explanatory, however the company still faces a major challenge. “Many people know a lot about the conventional PV and so we are always being compared to conventional PV and SolarWindow is not a PV company. It’s probably more important or applicable to refer to us as a clean energy company and not renewable energy,” says Conklin.

The cost

Even though it’s still a bit too early to talk about the cost of the innovation, Conklin affirms that one of the company’s goals is to make it available to everyone.

“Our goal is to only be a very small margin above the base cost of a window for the added benefit of generating electricity, and from my personal perspective the goal is not for SolarWindow to be only available for the rich and famous. I see this as a product that can be affordable by everyone and that the economic incentives to do so will allow it to come to market.”

With the company still in the product development and the technology’s availability in the market expected for next year, SolarWindow is already looking into the future. “We already started working on the next product so we can continue to rule out new products as the market matures for SolarWindow. So new product innovation, new product development is always something that we are working on.”


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