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Revolutionary glass building blocks generate their own solar energy

Buildings have a lot of surface area that's exposed to sunlight, so why just stop at rooftop solar panels? We've already seen solar energy-harvesting windows, and of course Tesla's solar roof. Thanks to research being carried out at the University of Exeter, we may soon also have the option of replacing opaque exterior walls with solar glass blocks.

Known as Solar Squared, the transparent blocks contain multiple optical elements that each focus incoming sunlight onto an individual solar cell. All of the cells within each block are linked together, and the blocks themselves can in turn be wired to one another, ultimately feeding into the building's electrical grid or a battery.
The blocks are embedded during the manufacturing process with an array of optical elements that focus sunlight on tiny solar cells. The blocks are made to ensure maximum solar absorption, even in tricky urban areas.
“The modular design is completely scalable, and allows for seamless architectural integration,” according to an Exeter press release. “The streamlined nature of the technology enables it to be embedded in conventional construction materials, meaning that its applications are myriad.”
Professor Tapas Mallick and Dr Hasan Baig, along with IIB Research Commercialization Manager Jim Williams, hope their patent-pending design will revolutionize the construction industry.
“Deployment of standard solar technology is limited by the large area requirement and the negative visual impact,” said Dr Baig from the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall. “We wanted to overcome these limitations by introducing technologies that become a part of the building’s envelope. We now have the capability to build integrated, affordable, efficient, and attractive solar technologies as part of the building’s architecture, in places where energy demand is highest, whilst having minimal impact on the landscape and on quality of life.”
There are challenges, though.
Dr Baig says it’s difficult to communicate how the building product serves a dual purpose, and that expectations of price should reflect the same. “People tend to make comparisons with standard solar panels found on roof tops but it’s necessary to also include the value of the underlying building material in order to quantify the value proposition.”
For this reason, the group aims to ensure that Solar Squared will cost less than conventional glass blocks with the added cost of electricity. They are currently seeking test sites and investors – in case you know someone who can take this to the next level.

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