Photovoltaic solar facade on a municipal building, Spain
Photovoltaic solar facade on a municipal building, Spain
Image credit: Hanjin (wikimedia commons)

Energy - The skyscraper generators

We use less than 1 per cent of the sun’s power for our global electricity needs.

Thin-film solar technology, developed at the University of Oxford, revolutionises the way we use glass, allowing us to harness the sun’s power to a greater degree than was ever thought possible.

The solar cells produced can be printed onto glass and other surfaces and then incorporated into glazing panels and walls. Skyscrapers can be turned into vertical power stations.

Other attempts at thin-film solar technologies have been hampered by the scarcity of materials they use. The Oxford technology, developed by Professor Henry Snaith and colleagues in the Department of Physics, uses materials which are plentiful, environmentally benign and very low cost. The cells can be used over large areas very easily, offering unprecedented levels of efficiency in power generation. Professor Snaith’s key discovery, establishing the potential of chemicals called perovskites, was named one of the top ten breakthroughs of 2012 by Science magazine.

An Oxford University spin-out company, Oxford Photovoltaics, is now commercialising Professor Snaith’s technology. The company’s vision is to transform the profile of solar power, working with the construction industry to use the facades of high-rise buildings to generate ever-greater levels of clean, sustainable power.