Solar Squared: breakthrough in energy generation

01 September 2017

Solar Squared | Credit: University of Exeter

Renewable Energy experts are developing a new technique that could accelerate the widespread introduction of net-zero energy buildings through the latest Building Integrated Photovoltaics.

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

It is thought that buildings consume more than 40 per cent of the electricity produced across the globe. This new technology would allow electricity to be produced at the site of use, while being seamlessly integrated into the building.

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

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

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

Said chief scientific advisor Professor Tapas Mallick, “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.”

Solar squared | Credit: University of Exeter

The Build Solar team believe their blocks have better thermal insulation than traditional glass blocks, all while 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 technology 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 electricity at the point of use.”

For more information about Solar Squared, visit buildsolar.co.uk.


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