Monday, March 8, 2010
New Solar Windows Appear Blinged Out
A prototype gets a real-world tryout after the opening this week of an eco-friendly research building in Syracuse. Researchers at CASE – a collaborative research group involving Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy and the international architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – call it a step toward exploiting the huge but largely untapped "green" resource of building exteriors.
"The reason we're interested in windows is because they have the largest surface areas, typically, in buildings – especially in tall, urban buildings," said Dyson, a professor of architecture at RPI. "We have a lot of vertical surface area to work with to really generate a lot of power." In contrast to typical flat solar panels, CASE's system is designed to do several things.
Each clear pyramid – with facets less than a foot square – has a lens to focus sunlight onto a tiny solar cell. The concentrated cells are designed to be more efficient in generating energy than traditional cells. And the pyramid modules rotate to track the sun. Pumped water keeps the solar cells cool to maximize efficiency. The cooling water also "captures" that waste heat for other uses, such as hot water or radiant heat for the building.
The pattern of pyramids also would deflect and diffuse the sun's rays, meaning office workers with eastern exposures could work in natural light all morning instead of drawing the blinds against the glare. Windows will still provide a view, albeit one obstructed a bit where the patterns of pyramids are placed.
The technology behind concentrating the sun's energy through a lens is not new, nor is the concept of placing solar cells on the side of a building. But the integration of all these ideas to perform multiple tasks in this way is novel.
Dyson notes that a building's biggest energy suckers are usually cooling, heating and lighting. This system would tackle all three, whether it's extracting maximum solar power in New York City or deflecting and diffusing sunlight in Phoenix. Jason Vollen, an RPI architecture professor at CASE, said their integrated system squeezes every bit of usability out of the system.
The prototype, one of many green features of the state-of-the-art building, is an 8-by-8-foot panel and will become fully operational sometime after the building is dedicated Friday. A second, portable prototype will be generating energy earlier.