So what is photovoltaic glass? Photovoltaic (PV for short) glass is specifically designed to incorporate various types of solar cells and to maximise the amount of solar energy that can penetrate the cells. This is one of the most important characteristics of pholotvoltaic glass – the glass layer has to be constructed in such a way that it does not obstruct sunlight passing through to the cells. The more light that can reach the solar cells the better.

While making sure the glass is as efficient as possible, it’s the solar cells that are the workhorse of the solar panel. Therefore, the manufacturing process involves the solar cells being totally wrapped in a protective resin to keep them safe from the elements and airborne objects that could damage them. Each cell has two electrical connections and two modules, and all modules are inter-linked. This photovoltaic system generates electrical current by converting solar energy into electricity.

There are three main types of solar cells.

Types of Solar PV Cells        

                               Monocrystalline                                Poly/Multi crystalline                      Amorphous

Colour              Opaque/blue, dark grey-black              Blue or opaque                                          Transparent
(Can be used in window glazing for high energy efficiency)

Efficiency              14% – 16%                                                        14%                                                            10%

Materials             Silicon crystals                                        Crystalline discs                                   Non-crystalline

Cost                 Expensive (complex to                                          Medium                                               Medium
manufacture)

The most common type of PV cells used in residential and commercial solar panels are polycrystalline cells because they have good efficiency and are relatively cheap to manufacture. While amorphous solar cells are the ones you’ll see on smaller products such as calculators and garden lamps.

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Current Innovations in Photovoltaic Glass

Corning

The development of photovoltaic glass is a fast-moving science. In February 2012, Corning triumphed with the first commercial order for its PV glass substrate that has been three years in development, utilising the involvement and co-operation of Corning customers.  This engineered glass has higher-efficiency, lighter weight and thin-film modules that have an impressive 20% to 30% efficiency.  Additionally the glass substrates profess to be high-temperature tolerant and 50% stronger even though the glass is less than half the thickness of glass commonly in use for solar panels. This permits more sunlight to pass into the semiconductor layer. Conversion efficiency can be increased even further with the application of more semiconductor films. This is certainly one to watch.

Pole-Mounted Array - Photovoltaic Glass

Pole-Mounted Photovoltaic Array—Living Off Grid (Flickr.com)

Guardian Industries/ Pythagoras

However, close on their heels, Guardian Industries and Pythagoras Solar, in collaboration, have teamed up and unveiled SunGuard PVGlass Units, initially for use in commercial buildings, at the March 2012 annual BEC Conference in Las Vegas. This product is intended to replace standard vision glass and skylights with a glass product that is reputed to convert direct sunlight into energy at a rate comparable to crystalline silicon, optimising daylight, letting in diffused light, acting as a thermal barrier and generating electricity from the façade of buildings.

Onyx Solar

But they need to look over their shoulders because coming back a little closer to the UK, Onyx Solar, a Spanish company, are already producing multifunctional, bioclimatic, photovoltaic construction solutions that purport to integrate into any building type to provide clean, free energy together with both thermal and acoustic insulation… all from the sun. Exploring these in greater depth suggests that they may already be treading rather more than a few steps ahead of the Corning and Guardian Industries/ Pythagoras projects. Onyx Solar suggest that their PV solutions are able to filter out harmful UV and infrared radiation without compromising visibility or inhibiting natural light. But that is not all, they have an infinite range of glass to select from meaning that colour, transparency degree, thickness, size and pattern can be drawn together to produce a 100% customised glass solution to meet a customer’s exact requirements.

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