technology – energy management
Truly Transparent Solar
Ubiquitous Energy has developed a transparent solar cell which can be applied to any surface to harvest ambient light and generate electricity.
By Steve Panosian
THE SUN’S ENERGY and its ubiquitous nature serves as the lifeline for the world we live in. Man’s quest for harnessing light goes back thousands of years, when it was used to start fires by utilizing mirrors. It was just under 200 years ago in 1839 that a French physicist, Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel, discovered the photovoltaic effect, which is the operating principle of the solar cell. The strides and in-roads that have since developed in the world of solar energy are now moving at a very rapid pace.
As we have been reporting, solar technology continues to evolve as it relates to the new world of sustainable design, with expanding solutions for home, work and our mobile lifestyles. The latest innovations of solar capture products that are evolving today go beyond the roof-top model currently in wide use. In fact, a promising breakthrough solution that will define how we view a new day’s horizon is just around the corner.
Imagine every window in every building and car becoming its own solar cell.
A company I’m following, Ubiquitous Energy (UE), is leading the way with a truly innovative and disruptive new take on solar capture. This all began with three scientists from MIT about a decade ago. Miles C. Barr, Richard R. Lunt, and Vladimir Bulovic teamed up to create a Transparent Photovoltaic (TPV) solution. Think of it as transparent solar glass.
The result is a patented coating called ClearView Power™(CVP) that is a transparent solar cell which can be applied to any surface in order to harvest ambient light and generate electricity. The amazing way it works is CVP transmits light visible to the human eye by absorbing only ultraviolet and near-infrared light that makes up two-thirds of the light available for energy harvesting.
The key factor for commercial applications is its power conversion efficiencies of over 10 percent, while maintaining up to 80 percent visible transparency. The CVP coating layer is invisible to the human eye and harvests solar energy from the surfaces the coating is applied to. The coating will enable windows to serve as clean energy power generators that can provide distributed power within buildings, or even generate electricity to be fed back into the grid. This innovative approach enables solar energy harvesting without impacting design aesthetics.
Ubiquitous Energy was incorporated in 2012, and the company received early support from the National Science Foundation and angel investors after it demonstrated proof of concept and expanded its technology and patent portfolio. In 2014 the company raised $7M in equity financing, moved to Silicon Valley, and built a highly automated research and development coating line.
Since March 2015, Ubiquitous Energy has tested more than 1.5 million of its transparent solar devices in a test-response loop that has enabled rapid optimization for power conversion efficiency, transparency, and yield. In 2016 the company sold engineering samples to several early partners and partnered with two global glass manufacturers to help scale and commercialize the technology. In 2017, Ubiquitous Energy raised $15M in equity financing, proceeds which funded expansion of the company’s team and production capabilities including a new prototyping and pilot production line.
In 2019, among many other achievements, the company reported the certification of the best performance for a transparent solar device ever reported. Commercializing CVP is on the horizon with its first pilot installation projects scheduled for early 2020. (And, yes, TD will be there to cover that major milestone!)
What makes UE’s innovation even more appealing is the fact that it’s organic. It can be produced without requiring much energy consumption versus other solar technologies. “You do not need an ultra-high-vacuum chamber, and you don’t need to heat anything to 300 to 400 degrees,” says Nikos Kopidakis, senior research scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado.
The solar material is deposited using a standard film coating process, all at ambient temperatures. Ubiquitous engineers are building organic photovoltaic structures 1,000 times thinner than a human hair and its desired form factor is virtually limitless. “The beauty of organic chemistry is there is a big variety of materials available,” says Kopidakis. “The sky’s the limit. It can’t be just anything, but we have a decent understanding of the requirements. You can design the material to look green to the eye, blue or any other color, or transparent.”
We’ll be keeping an eye on Ubiquitous Energy and reporting back when the product moves from testing into production. Solar capture continues to fascinate and is an integral component in any performance home design.
Miles C. Barr
Richard R. Lunt