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Solar-powered windows could become a reality

23rd Mar 2012

Scientists are constantly in search of ways to make solar panels more efficient, or for ways to make them easier to install.

A team from Flinders University's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences has recently made a major breakthrough in this area- by creating windows that can double-up as solar panels.

Over the past four years, they have developed an alternative to silicon-based solar cells in the form of carbon nanotubes.

Not only can they be manufactured more affordably, but these are more efficient in comparison to traditional solar panels.

Dr Bissett from the university explained that the silicon solar cells used at present are actually expensive to produce and "use a lot of electricity to purify".

The efficiency of standard solar cells stands at around ten per cent, he claimed, and it could take as long as 15 years to reap the energy it took to produce them in the first place.

"In a new building, or one where the windows are being replaced anyway, adding transparent solar cells to the glass would be a relatively small cost since the cost of the glass, frames and installation would be the same with or without the solar component," Dr Bissett commented.

The carbon nanotubes created at Flinders University are transparent, which means they can be sprayed onto windows without blocking light.

Dr Bissett explains the process as similar to tinting the windows - except they are able to generate electricity.

There are various applications for the product, but the scientists believe the most important will be on high-rise buildings that do not have a lot of roof space, but plenty of windows to use instead.

This project follows hot on the heels of recent findings from SoloPower, a manufacturer of thin film solar cells and modules based in San Jose.

It claims to have reached an aperture area efficiency of 13.4 per cent with its solar cells, which could benefit energy customers from all over the world.

Flinders University anticipates that its technology could be on the market in the next ten years, boosting the environmental credentials of many major cities.

It is possible that your home could even benefit from the invention, as Dr Bissett notes it can be used to power all sorts of electrical devices.

He highlighted both the environmental and financial advantages of the system - so who knows, it could even help lower your electricity bills in years to come.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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