Between cost savings and environmental concerns, there’s plenty of demand for solar energy these days. But designing something sexier than your average rooftop panel has remained a vexing challenge. Luckily, researchers at Exeter University in England seem to have hit on a solar-cell solution that effortlessly combines form and function.
Dubbed Solar Squared, the design is a modular glass brick embedded with near-translucent photovoltaic solar cells. This allows the unobtrusive building material to store energy from the sun while letting in natural light and offering some thermal insulation—a huge deal for Passive house construction. Their structure allows them to be installed vertically (i.e. in a wall rather than on a roof), allowing them to capture solar energy even in dense urban environments. The prototype comes just a few months after Elon Musk debuted solar tiles after a similar effort to rethink the design of solar technology.
According to Dr. Hasan Baig of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, the goal of the project was to create a space-efficient option that overcomes some of the current obstacles stalling solar tech adoption. By that metric, he sees Solar Squared as a success. We now have the capability to build integrated, affordable, efficient, and attractive solar technologies as part of the building’s architecture, in places where energy demand is highest, whilst having minimal impact on the landscape and on quality of life,” he said in a release.
It may be a little while before the patent-pending product finds its way into homes and high-rises, however. The Exeter team still needs to ensure they can sell Solar Squared for less than the cost of standard glass bricks plus associated electricity costs. Dr. Baig says he’s currently in talks with the National Solar Centre and Building Research Establishment, but the search for both investors and a test site remain ongoing. But if this product can help the planet without harming property values, that should all take care of itself soon enough.