Buildings to generate their own power with innovative glass blocks

August 15, 2017
Buildings could soon be able to convert the sun's energy into electricity without the need for solar panels, thanks to innovative new technology. Credit: Solar Squared

Buildings could soon be able to convert the sun's energy into electricity without the need for solar panels, thanks to innovative new technology.

Renewable Energy experts from the University of Exeter are developing a pioneering new technique that could accelerate the widespread introduction of net-zero buildings through the latest Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV).

These products, similar to the solar tile created by Tesla, can become a part of a 's architecture to generate electricity. The team have created an innovative glass block, which can be incorporated into the fabric of a building and is designed to collect solar energy and convert it to electricity.

It is thought that buildings consume more than forty percent of the electricity produced across the globe. This new technology would allow electricity to be produced at the site of use, whilst being seamlessly integrated into the building.

The blocks, called Solar Squared, are designed to fit seamlessly into either new buildings, or as part of renovations in existing properties. They are similar to existing glass blocks by allowing daylight to resonate around a property by replacing traditional bricks and mortar with transparent glass bricks.

Buildings could soon be able to convert the sun's energy into electricity without the need for solar panels, thanks to innovative new technology. Credit: Solar Squared

Crucially, however, the Solar Squared blocks have intelligent optics that focus the onto small solar cells, enhancing the overall energy generated by each solar cell. The electricity generated will then be available to power the building, be stored or used to charge electric vehicles.

The Exeter team, which has created a start-up company Build Solar to market and produce the pioneering product, is now looking to encourage investment to carry out commercial testing of the product, and then aims to take it to market in 2018.

Dr Hasan Baig, founder of Build Solar and Research Fellow from the University of Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute said: "BIPV is a growing industry with a 16% annual growth rate. Setting up a company, which can cater to this growing market shall prove beneficial for the UK economy in the long term."

"We are aiming to build integrated, affordable, efficient and attractive solar technologies, which have the smallest impact on the local landscape. It's an exciting venture and one that should capture the imagination of the construction industry, when looking to develop new office blocks and public buildings or infrastructure projects such as train stations and carparks," said Professor Tapas Mallick, chief scientific advisor for Build Solar.

The Build Solar team believe their blocks have better thermal insulation than traditional glass blocks, as well as providing power to the building. The patent pending technology is at prototype stage and the team are now in the process of fine-tuning their designs in order to test the technology at pilot sites.

Co-inventor and Exeter's research commercialisation manager in Cornwall, Jim Williams, believes that the timing of the is favourable. "It's now clear that the world is moving to a distributed energy system, of which a growing proportion is renewable. This, coupled with the shift to electric vehicles means that there are substantial opportunities for new ways of generating at the point of use".

Explore further: Glasses generate power with flexible organic solar cells

More information: www.buildsolar.co.uk/

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EmceeSquared
1 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2017
"the Solar Squared blocks have intelligent optics that focus the incoming solar radiation onto small solar cells"

So these are solar panels. Serious bullshit by the anonymous author at the University of Exeter's PR department, and by the Phys.org editors who published it here.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2017
So these are solar panels

Well, no. They're not 'panels'.
PTTG
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2017
This is more solar roadways nonsense that does nothing but discredit photovoltaics. Solar doesn't get slipped in to some sidewall or underneath a parking lot; it gets put in direct sunlight where it works.

The only drawback solar has compared to other power sources is energy storage -- throwing solar into weird, inefficient places doesn't help that!
Da Schneib
4.7 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2017
Watch the #burners whine about how the utilities will lose money because they can't sell as much electricity.

@Emcee, no, they're not solar panels; they admit light, but use some of it (which they don't admit to the living spaces) to generate electricity. They're structurally compatible, unlike solar panels. They're as strong as glass, unlike solar panels. They're architecturally compatible, and aesthetically compatible, and can be used either in renovation or in new construction. I think you've missed the point here.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Aug 16, 2017
@Emcee, let me ask you a question. Are you only in favor of ugly solar panels? Do they have to be ugly to work? What's your problem here?
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2017
This is more solar roadways nonsense that does nothing but discredit photovoltaics
@PTTG
i agree solar roadways was total bullsh*t but this is different
though i don't see this being very efficient in certain areas due to shade, exposure or other factors, i can see this being a fairly aesthetically pleasing method of renovation for a home exterior wall, and perhaps some other places

this might be beneficial in commercial and institutional structures where there is fewer opening windows as well as it can allow for light but also generate electricity

i am not saying this is a stupendous idea, but it may well be a fair means to attempt more aesthetically pleasing PV systems

as i personally tend to be practical and prefer function over form, it doesn't matter to me
however the wife really liked these bricks and she would consider using them on the south wall in renovations replacing 1 window and adding more light in another area with functional PV's
EmceeSquared
5 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2017
Da Schneib:[qAre you only in favor of ugly solar panels? Do they have to be ugly to work?

Of course not. I happen to think most PV panels look good. I had no complaint about these concentrating glass blocks. It's just that they are indeed panels, just unconventional ones, despite the article saying "without the need for solar panels".
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Aug 17, 2017
The totality of it l says - a little bit from EVERYWHERE combines to make the sum greater than the parts....
Dodgy
1 / 5 (3) Aug 17, 2017
..."It's now clear that the world is moving to a distributed energy system, of which a growing proportion is renewable....

Er...no. The world is being dragged towards 'renewable' energy by activists using HUGE tranches of taxpayer money. Renewable energy cannot support a Grid system, which needs reliable energy generation to remain stable, so 'distributed' energy is being proposed.

This means a future where we will only have energy when it is available, instead of on tap. And the energy will vary wildly in price, depending on whether the sun is shining and the wind is blowing in your area or not. There are no practical storage systems which work on a Grid scale, and nothing likely to arrive in the future. In other words, the intermittency of renewable energy threatens our entire technological society.

But don't worry about that. So long as grants are available to do 'renewable' research, keep taking the Kool-Aid....
Da Schneib
4.5 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2017
@Emcee, I think there's more to it than just utility. And in addition, instead of being tacked on afterward, this stuff will be structural. Finally, if aesthetics can increase adoption, sounds good to me. This is the kind of thinking that will get solar adopted more easily.
EmceeSquared
5 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2017
Da Schneib:
I think there's more to it than just utility. And in addition, instead of being tacked on afterward, this stuff will be structural. Finally, if aesthetics can increase adoption, sounds good to me. This is the kind of thinking that will get solar adopted more easily.


I agree with all of that. I don't know why you're posting that as if I said anything indicating I disagree. All I said, as I've reiterated, is that these are panels though the article says they're not. It's not a big deal, it doesn't devalue these panels.

But it does devalue the integrity of the article, because it's making an inflated claim at least, and its also misunderstanding the subject while speaking as an expert explaining them to the public.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2017
All I said, as I've reiterated, is that these are panels though the article says they're not.


panel
ˈpan(ə)l/
noun
noun: panel; plural noun: panels

1.
a flat or curved component, typically rectangular, that forms or is set into the surface of a door, wall, or ceiling.


They're not panels.
EmceeSquared
5 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2017
Huh? Every one of these blocks is a flat, rectangular component that forms or is set into the surface of a door, wall or ceiling.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2017
Hmmmm. I think there's some semantics at work here. They look like glass bricks with solar cells and a focusing mechanism set into them to me, not like "solar panels."

In any case, if your argument is with the writing, I won't defend it; that's a matter of opinion and you're as entitled to yours as I am to mine. Thanks for taking the time to clear this up.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Aug 20, 2017
Hmmmm. I think there's some semantics at work here. They look like glass bricks with solar cells and a focusing mechanism set into them to me, not like "solar panels."

In any case, if your argument is with the writing, I won't defend it; that's a matter of opinion and you're as entitled to yours as I am to mine. Thanks for taking the time to clear this up.

IT looks more like a solar concentrating mechanism to me.

PPihkala
not rated yet Aug 21, 2017
Let's call them solar blocks or bricks. So they are build up as part of your building. But that also means that whenever you want to replace one for any reason, it is much harder than with panels that are not part of your structural integrity, ie load bearing parts. So if a new version comes out in some years afterwards, you are stuck with the old ones or pay premium to have the old ones replaced.
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 21, 2017
Since they are only supposed to be supplemental power sourec I don't see why you'd want to replace them. You don't replace your roof PV either just because a better one comes along, do you?
Repairs might be an issue. Then again: whenever I see a building with glass blocks I can't really imagine these ever breaking. Why would they? It's not like these are ever installed at the limit of their load bearing capacity. If the PV in an individual one fails then that's a very minute reduction in generation ability - so probably not enough reason to replace it.
Being blocks these are 'plug and play' where you plug to the neighboring block. So if you really need to replace one I don't see any insurmountable difficulties.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2017
"This is more solar roadways nonsense that does nothing but discredit photovoltaics. Solar doesn't get slipped in to some sidewall or underneath a parking lot; it gets put in direct sunlight where it works.
The only drawback solar has compared to other power sources is energy storage -- throwing solar into weird, inefficient places doesn't help that!"

You are 101% correct PTTG. Meanwhile people like DaSchneib say "Watch the #burners whine about how the utilities will lose money because they can't sell as much electricity. "

Da is educated enough to know that vertical solar collectors make no sense thus he must be brainwashed if he thinks that this product could ever be cost effective.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2017
Glass blocks have a vacuum inside in order to provide insulation. I really doubt that the electrical connector shown can hold a vacuum. Also these blocks are installed with cement and having to connect each block to a main and then lay the block appears to be much more complex and expensive.

I know that these statements make me look like a perpetual naysayer but when I see utter BS I have to speak up.
MR166
1 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2017
Nonsense like this is obviously produced by undergrads trying to earn a degree. Publishing garbage like this does a real disservice to real engineers and scientists.
Dingbone
Aug 22, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gkam
1 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2017
I guess it is really easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize others who actually do something.

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