Story 2015-12-07 WX4Z Transparent solar cells that could power skyscrapers

Transparent solar cells that could power skyscrapers

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in hardware on (#WX4Z)
story imageResearch has boosted solar panel efficiency over time. But some scientists argue that to truly take advantage of the sun's power, we also need to expand the amount of real estate that can be outfitted with solar, by making cells that are nearly or entirely see-through, i-e transparent cells.

A Silicon Valley start-up named "Ubiquitous Energy" has succeeded in creating such transparent solar cells. ClearView is a transparent solar cell that can coat any surface, including displays and windows, to harvest ambient light and generate electricity. Ubiquitous Energy has redesigned the solar cell to selectively transmit light visible to the human eye while absorbing only the ultraviolet and infrared light and converting it into electricity.
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That doesn't seem to mesh with their goal of completely eliminating the need for batteries in small consumer gadgets and even smart phones, as LED lighting doesn't emit ultraviolet or infrared, and there isn't always a window nearby. Still a potentially revolutionary technology in other applications, but unfortunately it’s in the very, very early stages of development.

http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/ubiquitous-energy-transparent-solar-power-timeline/
Reply 14 comments

Or (Score: 1, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on 2015-12-08 03:35 (#WZYE)

Build fibre out to remote cities, stop the current waste of petrol and other resources used for people to all commute to a central location, build cities outwards and remove the need for more ckyscrapers. We have high speed net now. Do we all need to work in the city?

Re: Or (Score: 2, Interesting)

by fishybell@pipedot.org on 2015-12-08 14:55 (#X1J7)

Building cities outwards necessarily either requires removing farmland or destroying ecosystems, which is far and wide the largest contributor to extinctions. Since a significant goal of lower emissions is to save the environment and all its inhabitants, urban sprawl goes directly against this.

Building out fiber to remote areas doesn't help either as jobs continue to demand the worker be there during work hours. Look at what Yahoo did for an example.

I'm not saying building up is the answer either, as skyscrapers aren't exactly environmentally friendly either. If the answer were to be to retrofit existing buildings, and the process to build the transparent solar cells was sustainable and economical, then I'm all for it. Unfortunately, we've all heard the spiel before, and yet years have gone by and no one is building buildings with integrated solar windows. I'm not holding my breath that it starts now.

Re: Or (Score: 1)

by evilviper@pipedot.org on 2015-12-09 13:05 (#X4Y1)

Building cities outwards necessarily either requires removing farmland or destroying ecosystems, which is far and wide the largest contributor to extinctions. Since a significant goal of lower emissions is to save the environment and all its inhabitants, urban sprawl goes directly against this.
The US population keeps moving south and west... The Southwestern US is not farms or forests (except in small spots), but mostly-empty desert. While there are some endangered species there, it's a very small number. Maybe it's just me, but I can't get myself worked-up that development of thousands of square miles of desert land might eventually endanger a couple bird sub-species. Particularly in the light of so much more damage being caused if that land development was done outside the sparsely populated desert. Several (certainly not all) desert animals do much better in suburbs, anyhow.

Besides, whatever may be theoretically best, the economics show sprawl, even with commuting, is still massively more affordable than high-demand city living. People will continue to want to live without neighbors above and below them, and will want decent-sized yards that they don't have to share. Cutting-out the energy wasted by daily commuting is a net-positive result, regardless.
Building out fiber to remote areas doesn't help either as jobs continue to demand the worker be there during work hours. Look at what Yahoo did for an example.
The fact that Yahoo discontinued telecommuting, is not evidence that telecommuting doesn't work... Your link turns up opinion pieces on both sides, some saying it was a good idea, others saying it was a mistake, and most saying the number of companies who allow telecommuting keeps increasing. For Yahoo, I think it was just a tool to cut employees without as much downside as firings or layoffs.

Re: Or (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2015-12-10 09:55 (#X81Z)

I remember a documentary type show on the rise of petrol and how urban sprawl started where they claimed that the original suburban blocks were an illusion. Just ripping off the idea of having house and land in the country while stacking more people closer together. There comes a point where neighbours are too close and then blood is shed. There are few things worse than living too close to other people.

Re: Or (Score: 1)

by fishybell@pipedot.org on 2015-12-10 16:59 (#X9DX)

I'm not sure I get the distinction between protecting forest ecosystems and desert ecosystems. As someone who lives in the west I can tell you there are lots and lots of plants in the "mostly-empty" desert. Very few parts of the vast expanse between the continental divide in Colorado and the Sierra Nevadas in California are not filled with sage brush, juniper trees, pinyon pines, etc. Just because it's not an old-growth forest doesn't mean it isn't worth protecting. The whole "it's just the desert" mentality is why there are hundreds of threatened, endangered, and critically endangered species in the west. The whole idea of protecting individual animals and plants is that all species play a role in the ecosystem, and taking one species out threatens others in ways that are often unpredictable.

Re: Or (Score: 1)

by evilviper@pipedot.org on 2015-12-10 18:21 (#X9QM)

I'm not sure I get the distinction between protecting forest ecosystems and desert ecosystems.
Compare the density of plant and animal life in a desert, with a forest. Deserts are necessarily sparse, and so you can develop far more desert land while doing much less damage. Since development isn't going to stop, the LESS destructive method is preferable.
I can tell you there are lots and lots of plants in the "mostly-empty" desert.
We won't run out of creosote bushes.
The whole idea of protecting individual animals and plants is that all species play a role in the ecosystem
Actually the popularity of the endangered species act is all about people wanting to preserve their childhood, and the animals they remember. The smaller and less significant the animal, the less public interest in protecting them. In truth, many species go extinct all the time, their impact on the ecosystem is low, and nearly nobody cares when it happens. It's only when large animals disappear that people bat an eyelash.
taking one species out threatens others in ways that are often unpredictable.
That sounds a little too much like the fear-mongering mantra of anti-chemical/vaccine/GMO/nuclear groups to me. The ecosystem of Arizona didn't collapse when the Santa Cruz Pupfish (Cyprinodon arcuatus) went extinct. In fact, can you point to ANY ecosystems that collapsed as the result of a few minor plants or animals going extinct? Particularly when we're talking about one endangered minor sub-species of an animal that's otherwise doing fine, it's hard to justify all the expensive efforts to preserve it. And in the deserts, too, there are state and federal parks and preserves which will provide sanctuary for endemic species.

Re: Or (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2016-08-31 20:57 (#1S8ZJ)

A problem: there is no extra water to be had here and humans are thirsty beasts. Having lived in Arizona and being keenly aware of the water situation here, I can tell you that the current population is already draining the water table as fast as they can. In Tucson AZ, for example, the aquifer has already fallen several hundred feet since the 1980s. A single human lifetime ago the Rillito and Santa Cruz rivers flowed year round, whereas now they only flow when flash flooding occurs in the summer months. The city of Phoenix has drained local water sources so rapaciously that it is forced to steal water from the Colorado river and the White Mountains to the north.

The massive amount of development that has occurred in the southwest in just the past fifteen years is affecting changes in the seasonal rains, increasing temperatures in the cities by as much as 5 degrees from the temperatures in surrounding areas, and is disturbing the natural hydrology of the southwest and causing destructive flooding and massive sandstorms. Humans are poisoning the very delicate ecosystems with foreign and invasive plant species and salty water drawn from relatively saline rivers that accumulate in the soil because of the hard clay layer just below the ground.

The southwest cannot support the cities on the scale you're suggesting unless people are willing to live in enclosed arcologies built below ground to limit the damage that this bunch of hairless apes do everywhere we go. We're already swinging toward a tipping point in our local environment. This doesn't even account for the energy consumption that running AC all day does (which is necessary, I assure you). Please don't move here.

Re: Or (Score: 1)

by evilviper@pipedot.org on 2016-09-01 13:18 (#1S9HE)

Arizona is a sad case because libertarian fools run the state, and they refuse on principle to regulate and manage their natural resources sustainably, like adults.

California is a better model. Aquifers are recharged, usage restrictions are enacted, tiers are lowered, grey water is required for commercial landscaping, etc. Desalination is used to some extent as the technology gets cheaper, and tertiary treated sewage goes back into the water supply, creating a loop. Those last two offer a practically endless supply of water that can scale up to any population size.

Arizona could do all of this and would have ample water, but it's politically unpopular to talk about such things there, and they may need a harsh wake up call before the necessary reforms can be implemented.

But more importantly, even with that mismanagement, they're still doing infinitely less damage to infinitely fewer species than if people were developing old growth forests into cities and suburbs, or building just about anywhere else in the country, for that matter.

You have to keep in mind that there's almost NOWHERE with enough water. Forty out of fifty US states expect water shortages: http://pipedot.org/C373 . It's best to just accept that we can't stick a hose in the ground and pump enough water for everyone. Then we can move forward to practical management efforts, and it's doable everywhere, even the deserts. With California's jump-start on water management decades before anybody else was interested, I'm sure there are much wetter locales which will be hit much harder by droughts. Atlanta is one such example.

You know what's even better than putting solar panels on windows? (Score: 2, Funny)

by booleanlobster@pipedot.org on 2015-12-08 04:37 (#X01Z)

Putting them on the wall! You no longer need to purposely cripple your panel by making it transparent to 70% of the energy in solar spectrum!

You know what's even better than putting solar panels on the wall? Putting them on the roof! That way you can lay them flat to catch the sun better.

You know what's even better than putting them on the roof? Putting them on the ground! That way you can put them on sun-tracking mounts, and easily walk around and make repairs/replacements as needed.

You know what's even better than putting them on the ground? Putting them on the ground in the desert! That way you don't need to pay for expensive city real-estate.

But that's what all the BIG BORING companies keep trying. Let's do the window thing! That sounds fun!

Re: You know what's even better than putting solar panels on windows? (Score: 1)

by evilviper@pipedot.org on 2015-12-08 13:35 (#X1B0)

Putting them on the wall! You no longer need to purposely cripple your panel by making it transparent to 70% of the energy in solar spectrum!
Common solar panels are only 20% efficient, anyhow. If these will work, and can be made at reasonable prices, they're not crippled at all. Things like skyscrapers, which need as much electricity as they can get, don't have any "wall" space that isn't transparent.
You know what's even better than putting solar panels on the wall? Putting them on the roof! That way you can lay them flat to catch the sun better.
Only at near the equator do solar panels laying flat "catch the sun better." The further away from the equator you go, the steeper the angle you need and the more efficient vertical mounting will be.
Putting them on the ground! That way you can put them on sun-tracking mounts, and easily walk around and make repairs/replacements as needed.
Rooftop is far better, as you're utilizing otherwise wasted and nearly-free real-estate. They should last for 30+ years before needing "repairs/replacements" and going up to a roof doesn't add much expense.
You know what's even better than putting them on the ground? Putting them on the ground in the desert! That way you don't need to pay for expensive city real-estate.
Except the city real-estate was provided free by the property owner, while the desert real estate had to be purchased, environmental studies done, endangered animal habitat relocated/mitigated, etc.

And even in the US, transmission from the deserts up to northern population centers is far too inefficient and wasteful, not to mention requiring huge up-front costs to build it out. The use case is even worse for other countries, who may not have any big empty deserts.

Re: You know what's even better than putting solar panels on windows? (Score: 0)

by Anonymous Coward on 2015-12-08 23:24 (#X35K)

Common solar panels are only 20% efficient, anyhow.
I remember, around 1990, one of my high school science teachers telling the class that once we reached 15% efficiency we would need no other power generation systems. Mind you, this was a long time ago. I imagine that - as a species - our power requirements have increased dramatically since then.

Re: You know what's even better than putting solar panels on windows? (Score: 1)

by booleanlobster@pipedot.org on 2015-12-09 05:49 (#X3X4)

Common solar panels are 20% efficient because we have tuned the bandgap to about 1.1-1.4 eV, which is the right spot to catch as much energy from solar radiation as possible for a single-junction cell. If you exclude visible light, you are left with the sides of this, which are awful.
"Doesn't convert or even block the peak of the spectrum" is a massive handicap for a solar panel. The panels designed without that restriction will always be vastly cheaper per watt.

Why would you use solar panels at high latitude? That's another intentional handicap. Put them where the sun actually shines, maybe?

The panels themselves might last for a long time, although we don't exactly have the manufacturing data to back that up. But even if they do, there's casing and transformers and grid connections and mechanical mounts, all of which break and need maintenance. If you are on a roof, that's fine. If you are on the side of a skyscraper, it's more expensive.

There are plenty of southern population centers to supply with cheap, dumb, efficient, boring solar panels. Let's do that

Re: You know what's even better than putting solar panels on windows? (Score: 1)

by evilviper@pipedot.org on 2015-12-09 12:25 (#X4SN)

If you exclude visible light, you are left with the sides of this, which are awful.
Your graph shows a tremendous amount of power available in the infrared. I don't see a problem.

In addition, HEAT reduces panel efficiency. So allowing lots of unused light right through will offer a small improvement in efficiency, by itself.
Why would you use solar panels at high latitude? That's another intentional handicap. Put them where the sun actually shines, maybe?
Because billions of people live at high latitudes. They need energy, too. Power lines over running thousands of kilometers have huge losses. We haven't gotten superconductors to work quite yet, and even if we did, the up-front construction costs would be huge.
there's casing and transformers and grid connections and mechanical mounts, all of which break and need maintenance. If you are on a roof, that's fine. If you are on the side of a skyscraper, it's more expensive.
The "transformers and grid connections" wouldn't be located on the sides of the skyscraper (perhaps in the dropped-ceilings), so no additional maintenance burden there. The "mounts" already exist to hold windows in place, and window washers are already routine, so no additional expenses there. There will be just a little more expense in routing electrical lines from the panels, which wouldn't be required with plain windows.
There are plenty of southern population centers to supply with cheap, dumb, efficient, boring solar panels.
Nothing wrong with that, but it's not as if these efforts will somehow slow or stop the production of traditional PV panels. People in less-than-ideal conditions for existing solar panels would like to get some of the benefits, too, and there's no reason to stop them.

Already covered on |. (Score: 4, Informative)

by codersean@pipedot.org on 2015-12-08 08:15 (#X0F1)