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Transparent Solar in Clear View?

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The call for innovation in energy efficiency has spurred research and development departments to take another look at solar panels.  Recent advancements include bifacial or heterojunction solar modules that promise a measure of efficiency.  This week, Ubiquitous Energy announced the progress they have made with solar cells.  The startup has developed transparent solar cells to create its ClearView Power windows, a kind of "solar glass" that can turn sunlight into energy without needing the bluish-grey opaque panels we are used to.  "It can be applied to windows of skyscrapers; it can be applied to glass in automobiles; it can be applied to the glass on your iPhone," Miles Barr, Ubiquitous Energy's founder and chief technology officer, told CNN Business. Organic solar cells (OSCs) are lightweight, nontoxic and semi-transparent. According to the firm, the transparent solar coating selectively absorbs and converts ultraviolet and near-infrared light to electricity while letting visible light through.  The company installed approximately 100 square feet of transparent solar windows at its headquarters in Redwood City, California.  The firm hopes to perfect this product and take full advantage of the California mandate requiring all new homes to incorporate some form of solar.

Ubiquitous Energy confirmed the efficiency was tested and certified by third-party test lab Newport Corporation.  Despite this tried and tested tech, the industry isn’t rolling out the red carpet just yet.  The company will face engineering, educating and marketing challenges as they move forward with this technology.  "Their basic drawback is their relatively low efficiency," said Anne Grete Hestnes, a professor of architecture at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who specializes in solar energy. "However, it is all a question of price. If the transparent cells are cheaper, and if the cells are to cover a relatively large area ... it may be the better solution," she added.  Barr points to complementing current rooftop panels rather than replacing them and he admits they costs more to install compared to regular windows but those costs would be offset by the electricity they generate.  ”It's still a bit early to tell what the full effects of the global pandemic will be, including for our business," said Barr, adding that he is "still optimistic we'll be able to begin manufacturing activities in the next two years.”

Several companies are working on semi-transparent solar panels and similar products.  Heliatek won the 2020 Global Innovation Award for its organic solar films that would transform any building into a clean energy generator. Mechanical engineering company, Meyer Berger, has already invested in Oxford PV, another company working toward OSCs. Currently, OSCs have the lowest efficiency range of any NREL-listed materials system and according to some, have not yet delivered on their commercial or cost promise.  Skeptics haven’t held investors back.  Ubiquitous Energy has raised more than $25 million and Heliatek has raised more than $140 million since its founding in 2006.  Adequate funding tends to boots optimism but will it be enough to commercialize the product?  Barr concluded, ”We really see the future of this technology as being applied everywhere, all around us, ubiquitous.”

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