People have been using solar energy to warm themselves during cold seasons. As time progressed, scientists discovered that solar energy could be directly converted into electrical energy through solar cells. Solar cells are transducers made of semi-conductor materials. The photovoltaic glass is the latest improvement in solar technology. Rather than being installed separately on rooftops, it is incorporated in buildings or structures. However, the majority of the world's population has not embraced this technology due to lack of marketing as well as the stereotype associated with it regarding its price. Therefore, it is imperative to have in-depth knowledge of the photovoltaic glass, its background, the explanation of its working principle, its benefits, its challenges, and remedies to its challenges.
Definition, Background, and Explanation of Photovoltaic Glass
The photovoltaic glass is regarded as a special glass that houses integrated solar cells used to transform solar energy into electricity (Biyik et al. 2017, p.833). This implies that solar cells are sandwiched between two glass panes. Also, a special resin is used to fill the space between the panes, which securely wraps the cells on all sides. It is also prudent to elucidate that each solar cell has two terminals linked to other cells. The ramification for this is the formation of a system that generates electric current from solar energy.
Background of Photovoltaic Glass
Humans have always utilized solar energy since time immemorial. It is worthy to pinpoint that the earliest man used patches of sunlight to heat rocks, which would, in turn, give them warmth at night. Notably, the first breakthrough in converting solar energy to electricity happened in 1839. Edmond Becquerel exposed electrolyte containing two electrodes to sunlight and noted a current increase in his apparatus. However, he could not understand nor account for the increase in current. The phenomenon could not be explained scientifically until in 1860 when Augustin Mouchot built a system that generated electricity from solar energy. Imperatively, he used Saussure's oven to create a container filled with water and enclosed using a glass envelope. His work got admiration from the French government who funded it since it believed that it could revolutionize the energy sector. Nevertheless, the French government soon discontinued its funding due to the cheaper coal deal with England (Usoskin 2017, p3).
In 1873, Willoughby Smith made an important discovering regarding the photoconductivity of selenium element. Other scientists, Richard Evans Day and William Grylls Adams, did further research on selenium and discovered that it could produce a considerable amount of energy, enough to do a useful task. It is also essential to pinpoint that these researchers were the first also to demonstrate that a stationary solid material could convert solar to electrical energy. Henry Willsie later developed solar generators in 1904 using Day and Adams previous findings (Usoskin 2017, p3). In 1905, Albert Einstein explained the photoelectric effect which was a game-changer in photovoltaic experimentation.
In 1932, Jan Czochralski found out that Cadmium sulfide produced current when it was exposed to sunlight. In 1953, Dan Trivich, an American chemist published numerous theoretical calculations to determine the efficiency of various materials used to make solar cells. In 1954, Daryl Chapin, Gerald Pearson, and Calvin Fuller created the first photovoltaic cell at Bell Laboratories. Later, in 1956, the US developed solar cells to be used in satellites. The development of a better and an efficient photovoltaic glass was realized in 1958 when the US Signal Corps Laboratory invented n-p junction silicon cell. This design was radiation-resistant and was vital for space use for Sputnik-3, Vanguard II, and Explorer III.
In 1959, silicon cells were commercially made available, and by 1960, scientists had increased their efficiency from 11 to 14% (Usoskin 2017, p3). In 1962, a solar-array panel rated 14-watt was featured in Telstar telecommunications satellite, which the Bell Telephone laboratories launched. By 1966, there was a drastic improvement in power rating of a solar panel. The NASA satellite had 1-kilowatt photovoltaic arrays. In 1972, the University of Delaware established a laboratory to study and improve the photovoltaic technology.
In general, it is worthy to highlight that history shows that photovoltaic technology advancement has been sporadic. In particular, it is observed that advancement occurred in historical periods when conventional energy cost was high or the supply was questioned. For instance, in the 1970s, during the oil crisis, there was an increased advancement of photovoltaic glass to bridge the energy gap. Also, the first discovery of photovoltaic technology was because France feared that England would limit the coal energy it gives it. However, when the cost of conventional energy dropped or when there was certainty in supply, the government and the public decreased their interests in solar energy, which lowered the development of efficient photovoltaic glass technology. Nevertheless, the case is now different as scientists and governments have invested in photovoltaic glass technology as an alternative to conventional energy such as coal.
Explanation of the Working Principle of Photovoltaic Glass
The photovoltaic cell results when a p-type (positively-charged) silicon layer is placed against an n-type (negatively-charged) layer to create a diode. There are many types of photovoltaic cells in the contemporary world. However, their working principle remains the same irrespective of their design and material used to make them. Huen and Daoud (2017, pp. 1295-1302) explain that when sunlight strikes solar cells, positive and negative charge carriers are produced. Noteworthy, the glass allows short rays from the sun to pass through it while it prevents the reflected long rays from escaping from it. It is crucial to elucidate that negative charges are popularly known as electrons while positive carriers are holes. Both electrons and holes are freely delocalized within solar cells. When rays from the sunlight strike solar cells, holes gather in the cell's p-type region whereas electrons collect in its n-type region. When a load such as a battery or a speaker is connected across the cell's terminals, it causes an electric current to flow. Therefore, solar energy is transformed into electrical energy.
Benefits of Using Photovoltaic Glass
Photovoltaic glass has numerous benefits to people that use it. First, it is considered clean or green energy since it is a renewable source and does not pollute the environment. This implies that it does not endanger human and animal health or deplete natural resources. Specifically, photovoltaic glass filters out infrared and ultraviolet radiation while at the same time improves acoustic and thermal insulation. Moreover, it is a cost-saving source of energy since the only expense incurred is the initial purchase and installation cost. This technology also reduces the carbon footprint, which consequently promotes sustainability. The ramification for this is an increases public relations and branding efforts, which then improves the marketability of photovoltaic glass (Kapsis & Athienitis 2015, pp. 120-132).
In addition, this technology can be used to save on the cost of air-conditioning since they provide reduced transparency in environments with both too much heat and light. Thus, it prevents greenhouse in glazed structures or buildings. Also, photovoltaic glass comes in different gradient, patterns, and colors among other particulars. It is prudent to note that these features create variance regarding light penetration and photovoltaic efficiency, which offers multiple alternatives as far as architectural design is concerned. Photovoltaic glass also has the advantage of working day and night unlike conventional solar panels installed on rooftops which work only during the day.
Challenges Hindering the Implementation of Photovoltaic Glass
Today, photovoltaic glass accounts for only 1% of the total solar panel installations worldwide. However, analysts note that the technology can revolutionize the energy sector when barriers and challenges to its adoption are addressed. The first challenge that impedes photovoltaic glass implementation is its price. Imperatively, it costs more to acquire and install photovoltaic glass than the conventional solar panel systems. The perceived high costs scare away potential customers who would wish to have photovoltaic glass integrated into their buildings. Another challenge associated with price is the difficulty associated with establishing a supply chain for this technology. Additionally, installation of photovoltaic glass requires additional materials like framing, adhesives, and flashing materials which further makes the technology expensive (Grandell & Hook 2015, pp.18-37).
High operating temperature is also another challenge for photovoltaic glass. Unlike rack-mounted solar panels, photovoltaic glass is integrated within a building. Therefore, it does not allow air to flow between it and the host building or structure. Lack of cooling results in high temperatures which cause degradation on semi-conductor materials used to make the photovoltaic glass. Subsequently, this reduces the conversion efficiency of this technology which then results in early failure and low performance. Furthermore, photovoltaic glass contains less semi-conductor material than the conventional solar panel systems. This implies that it generates lesser electricity compared to similar-sized traditional solar panels.
Photovoltaic glass technology serves dual functions, and therefore it must adhere to codes and standards of construction and photovoltaic industries. For this reason, the technology must meet the design standards that the "International Electro-technical Commission and the Underwriters Laboratory" set. Additionally, it is required to meet the criteria set for structural components, which may cause handicap in the market. Moreover, unlike traditional solar panels whose module designs are constant, photovoltaic glass varies by the type of facades such as awnings, windows, and roof shingles. Thus, the custom-design emphasis hinders the scalability of photovoltaic glass, which then limits its market (Grandell & Hook 2015, pp.18-37).
Methods of Overcoming Challenges
Overcoming challenges associated with photovoltaic glass is a prelude to increased acceptability and usability of this technology in the contemporary world. Admittedly, there has been a negative stereotype about the photovoltaic glass. Most people think that this technology is too expensive for the majority of individuals to afford. However, the truth is that it is comparatively cheaper than the cost of traditional non-renewable energy source. For this reason, it is important to educate the public, through campaigns and conferences, about the photovoltaic glass. By so doing, they will have in-depth knowledge regarding this technology which will not only increase its publicity but also its marketability in the modern world. It is also essential to establish a well-known supply chain for photovoltaic technology to reduce its overall price.
There is also the need to design photovoltaic glasses such that they reduce overheating to prevent performance degradation of this technology. As mentioned previously, photovoltaic glass is integrated within a building, a situation that restricts airflow to cool it. Designers of this technology need to develop an innovative strategy that will allow for continuous aeration when needed.
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