High-rise buildings require a lot of energy to cool in the summer, but they have relatively little space on their small roofs for solar arrays. This quandary got Pythagorus Solar of San Mateo, California, thinking: What if a building’s windows could serve as solar panels? We have already seen this idea put into play before, but Pythagorus put a twist on it. The company’s solar window panels not only generate electricity with thin rows of silicon cells packed between double-pane glass, but they block sunlight from entering and heating a room via a trick of optics. “Instead of heating the room, the light generates clean solar power,” said Gonen Fink, CEO of Pythagoras. “It’s relatively simple and straightforward optics. The challenge is making everything work together.” But wait. Doesn’t blocking light defeat the purpose of windows?
According to the company, this is not the case. Pythagorus has stacked its solar cells to look like open venetian blinds inside a window pane, so you can still enjoy the view while generating electricity. And doing two jobs at once is key to solar tech moving forward, it seems. Joel Makower, chairman of the GreenBiz Group, a media company focused on sustainable businesses, says that the lines between technologies for energy, buildings, data, and vehicles are starting to blur, a phenomenon GreenBiz calls “Verge.” Buildings won’t simply consume energy: they will produce it as well.
“We’re definitely looking at buildings as net generators of electricity, at least during some parts of the day,” says Makower. “If you look at all the different parts of the building, from the pavement to the panels that make up the exterior to the windows–everything that receives sunlight is a potential solar collector.”