Developer of a transparent, thin-film solar photovoltaic (PV) coating that can be applied to windows, Ubiquitous Energy recently signed a strategic development agreement with Asahi Glass. The partnership holds the potential to usher in the day of net zero energy buildings and send the building-integrated PV (BIPV) market soaring.

Global glass production capacity stands at more than 8 billion square feet per year, and Asahi Glass  is the market’s largest producer. Ubiquitous Energy’s transparent solar PV coating can be applied to glass products using standard industrial equipment, smoothing the way for its introduction in glass manufacturing plants.

“We have been watching Ubiquitous Energy since its beginning and believe that this collaboration will fit in perfectly with our strategy of providing the best environmentally friendly glass solutions,” said Marc Van Den Neste , CTO of Asahi Glass’ Building & Industrial Company.

By creating aesthetically pleasing, transparent, power-producing glass, we will equip designers and architects with a BIPV solution that is beautiful and seamlessly integrated.

Just how far along is Ubiquitous Energy when it comes to producing solar PV glass coating of commercial grade and scale? And how will the strategic development agreement with Asahi Glass help Ubiquitous Energy capitalize on its innovative technology? Solar Magazine spoke with Asahi Glass and Ubiquitous Energy executives to find out more.

Ubiquitous Energy’s ClearView Power technology

Ubiquitous Energy’s ClearView Power™ technology serves as an invisible, onboard source of electricity, harvesting solar energy when incorporated in a variety of end products. The thin coating can be applied to the surface of building or automotive windows to provide electricity generation and energy efficiency, the company explains. It can also be applied to the displays of mobile electronic devices, opening up the possibility of virtually infinite battery life.

Previous attempts to make highly transparent solar PV cells focused on thinning the PV material down or segmenting the PV cells across the module area. These approaches suffered from the trade-off between transparency and efficiency, achieving neither, explained Benoit Ligot , corporate communications manager and compliance officer at Asahi Glass Europe. “Ubiquitous comes up with a real breakthrough solution in this respect,” he told Solar Magazine.

Two-thirds of the light available for energy harvesting is in the ultraviolet and infrared segments of the frequency spectrum, Ligot pointed out.

True transparency is achieved by selectively transmitting light visible to the human eye, while converting invisible UV (ultraviolet) and near infrared light into electricity. This allows the invisible film to be integrated directly into the surface of window glass without disrupting the view.

The chemistry of Ubiquitous Energy’s ClearView Power thin-film PV glass coating remains confidential. Ligot said that practical, solar energy conversion efficiencies above 10 percent are possible while maintaining visible transparency as high as 90 percent, however.

Ubiquitous Energy’s ClearView Power™ Technology
Ubiquitous Energy’s ClearView Power™ technology to create solar PV glass. | Source: Ubiquitous Energy

First pilot solar glass installations

How much electrical energy the solar PV glass will produce to a large degree depends on geographic location and the type of building, added Miles Barr, founder and CEO of the Redwood City, California-based company. “As one example, a 30-floor building in downtown Seattle would produce more electricity than a local 0.5-1MW capacity solar farm can produce annually,” Barr told Solar Magazine.

Ubiquitous Energy’s transparent solar coating is based on a combination of inorganic and organic materials that selectively absorb non-visible light (ultraviolet and infrared) and convert that energy into electricity while simultaneously transmitting visible light and blocking solar heat. These are the only solar cell materials we are aware of that operate efficiently at high transparency levels.

Ubiquitous Energy is at an advanced stage of developing commercial-grade production of its transparent, thin-film PV glass coating technology, Barr explained. At present, the company is focusing on forging commercial partnerships to validate product performance, scaling up manufacturing processes and the fabrication of transparent, color-neutral, solar PV-coated architectural glass products. Asahi Glass’ market-leading presence and its long history of bringing differentiated architectural glass products to market successfully will help on all these counts.

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Ubiquitous Energy was spun out of MIT in 2012. It’s now producing its highly transparent and efficient solar cells at a pilot production facility in Silicon Valley. Management expects to see initial, pilot, product installations in the coming year. Full-scale commercial production is expected in following years, Barr said.

Both Barr and Ligot said it’s too early to say how much Ubiquitous Energy’s solar PV glass might cost on the market, or how that would compare with the cost of conventional, architectural glass products. The same is true when it comes to which geographic and customer architectural glass market segments will target initially. comment

* Cover image credit: Ubiquitous Energy

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