Solar Glass alternatives are now available to make sky lights on solar paneled roofs

Researchers at the University of Exeter thought up an interesting alternative that may be the best of both worlds (until the next breakthrough, anyway). They created thick blocks of glass with optical features — not quite lenses or tunnels, but sort of light guides — that funnel light from a large area on the sunny side of the window onto a much smaller cell on the inside. By concentrating the light onto a smaller point, you get considerably more energy out of the cell’s tiny surface area than if it were ordinarily illuminated. It won’t be as much as a full-on cell covering that amount of space, but at least it’s transparent. Apart from the little cells and the wires connecting them, of course, which actually make a rather cool-looking pattern.

And because of their thickness, these Solar Squared units even provide decent insulation. Other solar glass options generally harvest in the infrared range, since if you captured the full spectrum — well, that wouldn’t be a window, it’d be a wall. But the energy you can capture is limited. Free light, free power, and free thermal insulation — or free after it pays for itself, anyway. That could make it attractive to larger building designers, who are always looking to integrate energy-saving, green features like this into their work.