Energy

New glass blocks may be a clear choice for solar power

Solar Squared blocks should hit the market in 2018
Solar Squared blocks should hit the market in 2018
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Solar Squared blocks should hit the market in 2018
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Solar Squared blocks should hit the market in 2018
Solar Squared blocks contain multiple optical elements that each focus incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell
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Solar Squared blocks contain multiple optical elements that each focus incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell

Buildings have a lot of surface area that's exposed to sunlight, so why just stop at rooftop solar panels? We've already seen solar energy-harvesting windows, and of course Tesla's solar roof. Thanks to research being carried out at the University of Exeter, we may soon also have the option of replacing opaque exterior walls with solar glass blocks.

Known as Solar Squared, the transparent blocks contain multiple optical elements that each focus incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell. All of the cells within each block are linked together, and the blocks themselves can in turn be wired to one another, ultimately feeding into the building's electrical grid or a battery.

Solar Squared blocks contain multiple optical elements that each focus incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell
Solar Squared blocks contain multiple optical elements that each focus incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell

Although much of the sunlight passes right through the blocks to illuminate the building's interior, tinting can be added on their inside surface to keep rooms from overheating. As a side benefit, they're claimed to offer better thermal insulation than traditional glass blocks.

The technology is being developed by spinoff company Build Solar, which is currently looking for partners to help carry out commercial testing. It is hoped that a finished product will be available by sometime next year. There's currently no word on cost or efficiency.

Sources: University of Exeter, Build Solar

4 comments
SimonClarke
What a brilliant idea. I love technology like this, use the features that we currently have and enable it to be an area where we can make electricity.
Grelly
Why mess around with windows? Why not the walls? Bigger surface area to play with and you don't have to worry about letting the light through.
highlandboy
Can you put the R / U thermal rating in. "Better than glass bricks" is quite subjective as there is quite some variation across current glass bricks.
Daishi
@highlandboy the info probably hasn't been released but I'm guessing the slight boost to thermal insulation comes from the slight boost added by the thin semi-transparent solar film applied to produce electricity. As a side note semi-transparent solar panel films might make for useful tinting material for office buildings with a lot of windows.
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