Solar Squared

A growing focus on energy efficiency has put pressure on researchers and market players to incorporate energy-efficient technology into the existing and new infrastructure. Passive design features that maximise energy efficiency can be added to on-site renewable energy generators in order to reduce infrastructural energy needs. Several technological advancements are taking place as the world moves towards self-sufficient, zero-energy-consuming spaces.

For example, researchers at the University of Exeter, UK, aim to create buildings with innovative glass blocks to enable them to generate their own power. They are developing a pioneering technique that could accelerate the widespread implementation of building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) net-zero-energy buildings.

The blocks, called Solar Squared, are designed to fit seamlessly into new buildings as well as old. They are similar to the existing glass blocks designed by Tesla, allowing daylight to concentrate around a property by replacing traditional bricks and mortar with transparent glass bricks. Solar Squared blocks have intelligent optics that focus the incoming solar radiation on to small solar cells when placed vertically, thus enhancing the overall efficiency of solar cells. The blocks can then be linked and wired to one another to generate electricity, which will then be available to power the building, be stored in batteries and charge electric vehicles.

As reported by research agencies, buildings consume more than 40 per cent of the electricity produced across the globe. If integrated seamlessly into the building, this new technology will allow electricity to be produced at the site of use. In addition, these blocks reportedly have better thermal insulation than traditional building materials. Thermal insulation reduces the heat transfer, thus saving the fuel or energy needed to heat up the building or to keep it at a particular temperature.

The Exeter team is led by Hasan Baig, a research fellow at the university’s Environment and Sustainability Institute. The team has created a start-up company Build Solar to market and produce the pioneering product. The founder Hasan is of the opinion that BIPV as an industry is growing at 16 per cent per annum, and setting up a company that can cater to this growing market will prove beneficial for the country’s economy in the long term.

The patent-pending technology is at the prototype stage, and the team is in the process of fine-tuning its designs in order to test the technology at various pilot commercial spaces. The product is expected to be launched in the market in 2018.