Glass act

BP Solar has formed an alliance with glass specialist Romag Holdings to develop large photovoltaic glass panels for use in building design.

The panels, which will be mass-produced for the first time, will allow solar cells to be used more widely and economically in the construction of office buildings.

Romag has developed a new processing technology to allow BP Solar’s photovoltaic cells to be integrated within laminated glass panels of up to 3.3m x 2.2m in size. the companies believe this will be the first time panels of such a size have been produced.

Solar cells have been integrated into laminated glass before, but this has been for one-off projects.

The panels will be easy to install and can be used to replace conventional glazing materials, while simultaneously harnessing energy from natural light to produce power, said Lyn Miles, chief executive of Romag.

‘These could be designed to form part of the fabric of the building and could be used in doors, windows, balconies, or roof structures.’

Romag, a specialist in blast and bullet-resistant glass composites, will establish a £2.5m production line in the north-east of England to manufacture the panels using the new process, the details of which are still confidential. The facility will have a capacity of around 6 or 7MW, and is expected to be operational by next spring. The companies also hope to install a second production line within 2-3 years, increasing the capacity to 12MW, said Ray Noble, BP Solar’s UK commercial manager.

The panels will provide a substantial percentage of the power required by a building, while assisting to cut carbon dioxide emissions. As they will be mass-produced, and can be used instead of the original building materials, they will also reduce the cost of installing solar technology, said Noble.

‘We have been making photovoltaic cells, to put into standard products such as batteries, for some time. These were OK to add on to existing buildings, but when we wanted to build them into the actual structure itself, we found they were the wrong size and specification,’ he said.

‘So we are laminating the cells between layers of glass, to make double-glazed panels to the size and specification required by builders.’

The panels can be made with thermally-coated or tinted glass, while the solar cells themselves can also be used to provide shading and prevent heat from sunlight entering the building, reducing the need for air conditioning.

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