We’ve seen solar-powered facades, roofs, roads, and even window blinds. But now researchers at England’s Exeter University are getting in on the solar-thing game with an entirely new product: solar-cell-embedded glass bricks. In addition to generating electricity, the glass architectural blocks let in natural light and provide thermal insulation, one of the key features of a passive house.
Named Solar Squared, the large square bricks contain a set of optical elements resembling old-timey flashbulbs that help concentrate sunlight onto small solar cells, achieving the maximum solar absorption. The blocks could easily replace non-solar glass bricks and are scalable and stackable. And, if you factor in their energy-generation, the bricks could be cheaper than conventional glass blocks.
Solar Squared’s creators saw their challenge as two-fold: Solar cells are ugly and they also need a lot of surface area to function. “We wanted to overcome these limitations by introducing technologies that become a part of the building’s envelope,” explained Dr. Hasan Baig, one of the researchers behind the design.
“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,” he says.