To talk about photovoltaic glass (also called photovoltaic glazing) and understand what it is, we first need to emphasize that one of the main predictors of a civilisation’s technical development is its energy efficiency. And, in this sense, renewables have a lot to offer, especially in a society that has become increasingly aware of the environment and the problems that come from the use of fossil fuels.
Solar and photovoltaic energy is emerging as a key element in the current environmental and energy crisis. In fact, even though solar radiation has been harnessed by humans for centuries, it is only now that we have the materials and technology to make the most of it.
The heat and light emitted by the sun can be transformed into thermal, hydraulic, or electrical energy thanks to materials such as photovoltaic glass, the aim of which is to enable us to produce and consume energy at the same time.
Currently, this type of photosensitive coating is only used on facades. However, due to its characteristics, it is likely to have other applications in the future, such as mobile phone screens or car sunroofs.
But what is photovoltaic glass and how does it work? What are its applications, advantages, and disadvantages compared to solar panels?
What is photovoltaic or solar glass?
Photovoltaic glass is a material that allows you to harness sunlight to generate electricity.
The first thing to point out here is that, despite its name, it isn’t necessarily made of glass (hence it being referred to as glazing sometimes). It simply has a photosensitive coating that enables it to absorb the sun’s energy.
The question is: how does it differ from solar panels?
Photovoltaic glass consists of several layers of glass separated by a maximum of 3 millimetres. Between them, there is a thin layer of amorphous silicon. They also have an invisible polymer film on the surface that turns the “ordinary” glass into a transparent plate.
Their functioning is similar to that of photovoltaic solar panels, albeit with certain particular features and specifications.
As we know, sunlight has a visible part and, in addition, an ultraviolet and infrared part which can’t be seen by the naked eye. Photovoltaic glass has the ability to absorb these two types of light and let the visible light pass through.
This can have certain advantages, particularly aesthetic ones, but it also reduces their efficiency considerably.
It is worth pointing out that the energy yield of photovoltaic glass is determined by the thickness of the glass and its degree of transparency. In principle, the more transparent the glass, the less energy or electricity it generates.
On the other hand, solar glass can be more aesthetically pleasing than conventional panels (and they come in different sizes and colours). Moreover, by filtering ultraviolet rays (up to 99%) and infrared rays (95%), it thermally insulates the areas you install it in, and protects them from radiation.
Advantages and disadvantages of this material
Photovoltaic glass is technology with its advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of photovoltaic glass
● Versatility. The panels are manufactured in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colours, and even degrees of transparency, and can be installed on both roofs and facades. In addition, as they don’t have to be transparent, they can be used as skylights in buildings, hotels, gyms or wellness centres, and can be used as additional lighting for dark days and evenings. They can even be integrated into the outdoor furnishings of the home.
● Insulating qualities. This is undoubtedly one of the great advantages of this material. Photovoltaic glass absorbs ultraviolet and infrared rays, helping to insulate areas, both thermally and acoustically. This results in a reduction in air conditioning or heating costs.
● Continuous use. Photovoltaic glass’s energy production is continuous, because the material harnesses solar energy that isn’t visible but is always present, even on the cloudiest of days.
Disadvantages of photovoltaic glass
● Low efficiency. The main disadvantage of photovoltaic glass is that it’s a very inefficient material compared to solar panels in terms of its energy production, which is much lower.
Photovoltaic glass and transparent solar panels have a great deal of potential and promise, but are still in their development phase.
Their potential is excellent, especially in the urban environment, but their efficiency is currently very low. Nevertheless, obtaining natural lighting without neglecting protection against UV and infrared radiation can be very beneficial, as can improving thermal and acoustic insulation while producing energy.
If you are thinking of installing solar panels in your home or business, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.