The role of glass – solar glass – in meeting global climate goals

Solar glass greenhouse

This was submitted by Mikhail Vasiliev, lead scientist at ClearVue Technologies, a smart-building global materials company, headquartered in Perth, Australia.

As the world’s climate crisis endures across continents, there is an emerging technology now in production that promises to make a significant impact in reducing carbon emissions that is as ingenious as it is simple: glass.  But not just any glass and probably not the glass in your closest window.  Rather, glass that is engineered into a glazing system that allows it to be a clear construction material while improving the yield of embedded solar cells, generating clean electricity efficiently.

This technology represents a paradigm shift in the way glass will be used in building construction, automobiles, agriculture and specialty products.  Glass is no longer just a component of construction but also a renewable energy resource.

The process uses nano and micro particle technology as well as coatings, to internally diffuse, redistribute, and reflect elements of the incoming light towards the edges of the glass panel, where it is collected by monocrystalline silicon-based PV modules. The PV modules are placed into a circuit, which is optimized to harvest energy rays coming from multiple directions (even when cloudy).

Of the multiple commercial applications, demonstrations of the technology are perhaps furthest along in greenhouses, which worldwide is a significant and rapidly growing industry. The global commercial greenhouse market is estimated to be valued at USD 35.5 billion in 2022. It is projected to reach USD 61.6 billion by 2027, recording a compounded annual growth rate of 11.6% during the forecast period.

Worldwide, there are an estimated nine million acres of greenhouses.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, climate change is expected to increase the frequency of heavy precipitation in the United States, which can harm crops by eroding soil and depleting soil nutrients. With this disturbing development, greenhouses, which can regulate climatic conditions such as temperature and humidity, take on additional importance. Greenhouses are a natural structure to incorporate solar glazing technology, as they already are built to utilize the sun to allow light into the building.

As with any new technology, solar glass glazing will only be accepted in the commercial marketplace after extensive testing and data analysis.

To this end, several slightly different designs were tested during 2021-2023 in a greenhouse installation at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. The objective was to report on the field performance of these PV windows in the context of agrivoltaics, and to provide some detail of the performance differences measured in several solar window designs related to their glazing structure materials. 

The peer-reviewed results have recently been published at MDPI Technologies, a prestigious European scientific journal. Key findings were:

  1. the relative stability of daily energy outputs throughout seasons confirmed,
  2. the windows are suitable for efficient solar energy harvesting in adverse environmental conditions, even when installed at a range of angles, and in areas with dust contamination,
  3.  on some rainier days greenhouse energy generation (from 3 solar grow-rooms of total land footprint area of only ~1600 ft2) even outperformed a standard 6.6 kWp PV optimized optimally-tilted roof solar panels, and
  4. 40% of the energy requirements of the greenhouse were covered by solar glass generated power.

Greenhouses are but one of the many applications for clear solar glass energy solutions.  Creating Net Zero energy buildings is an imperative for companies and countries striving to reach their 2030 and beyond climate goals and this glass has a positive impact on the environment while generating essential energy.

Dr. Mikhail Vasiliev is the Lead Scientist at ClearVue Technologies, a smart-building global materials company, headquartered in Perth, Australia.

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