Led by entrepreneur and solar scientist Dr. Hasan Baig and world leading renewable energy scientist Professor Tapas Mallick, a team of researchers at the University of Exeter have developed an opaque glass block that harnesses solar energy. According to Build Solar, the company responsible for bringing the Solar Squared technology to market, “Buildings consume more than 40% of the electricity produced across the globe.”
With a mission centered on building affordable, efficient and attractive solar technology, Build Solar’s patent-pending glass block technology maximizes the energy-producing surface area a large building has to offer – going beyond the capabilities of rooftop solar panels. Whether it’s energy-harvesting windows or Tesla’s solar roof, the renewable energy industry has been pushing towards net-zero buildings in an effort to conserve electricity. Solar Squared is another brilliant innovation that brings the reality of a fully sustainable skyscraper closer to reality.
“Solar Squared incorporates patent-pending glass block technology that enables electricity generation, bringing us closer towards net-zero energy buildings.”
Energy Harvesting Glass Block
What makes the discovery made by University of Exeter researchers so incredibly groundbreaking? For one, the Solar Squared glass blocks are designed to integrate with the current architecture of buildings. In other words, installation doesn’t require a complete re-engineering of the building’s structure. Secondly, since the Solar Squared units are opaque, a rather significant portion of the sunlight passes right through the glass blocks – offering greater illumination and thermal benefits for those inside the building. Overheating can be controlled by simply tinting the blocks accordingly. Finally, Build Solar is unveiling a modular, yet aesthetically-pleasing glass design that only boosts the character of buildings. Unlike solar panels, which can stick out like a sore thumb, Solar Squared blocks only add to a building’s appearance.
The Build Solar Technology
From a technological innovation standpoint, Build Solar’s transparent blocks contain multiple optical elements that project the incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell. Since each glass block is wired to other glass blocks, the energy harnessing processes is a collective effort – feeding into the building grid system or energy inverter – like Tesla’s PowerWall 2. The more glass blocks, the more energy harnessed.
“Currently this industry is valued at $7 billion U.S. and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 16% until 2024,” Dr. Baig said during a presentation at this year’s CleanTech Innovate in London. “The key drivers for this industry are the spiraling growth of the solar industry, limited roof spaces, and the demand for new BICPV technology in retrofit application.”
Better than Solar Panels
With a goal centered around having a “minimal impact on the landscape and on the quality of life,” Build Solar hopes its revolutionary Solar Squared units become a leading renewable energy solution for buildings across the globe. The glass blocks are capable of collectively harnessing much more sunlight than solar panels mostly due to surface area coverage. Solar panels are limited to the footprint of a rooftop whereas Build Solar blocks can cover each side of the tallest structures.
Build Solar plans to launch its Solar Squared technology “sometime in 2018” and is currently looking for partners as the company transitions from development to market-ready. No information has been released regarding cost, efficiency, or installation process.