Solar Blocks Could Replace Solar Panels on Buildings

©. University of Exeter

New solar technologies are developed all of the time, but lately it seems that the focus has been less on making the perfect solar cell and more on making more adaptable solar tech that expands how we can use and harness solar energy.

Much of the excitement over Tesla's solar shingles is due to the the technology's ability to be built into the building; to be incorporated into the architecture so that the tiles can be both visually pleasing as well as a source of energy. A new technology from the University of Exeter would go beyond just the roof and allow energy-generating modules to make up the walls of the buildings too.

These glass building blocks called Solar Squared can be integrated into building walls in new construction or as part of renovations in existing buildings. The glass blocks would allow in daylight for ambient lighting as well as generate electricity.

Many companies have been developing transparent solar panels for use in buildings where the solar panels could replace windows or even make up entire facades of skyscrapers. Solar blocks could be used in a similar way, but they also feature optics that concentrate sunlight on the solar cells within, making them more efficient.

The other advantage of the solar blocks is that they are designed to have better thermal insulation than traditional glass blocks or transparent solar panels so they would help with the climate control of the building.

The blocks are currently in the prototype phase and the Exeter team is awaiting a patent on the technology, but they'll soon move on to pilot tests of the technology.

Distributed energy sources will be as important to a clean energy future as large solar power plants and wind farms. Having many ways to incorporate solar power into our buildings, which consume 40 percent of the energy produced globally, will help architects and engineers to integrate renewable energy as we move forward.