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Off Grid Energy Independence
Posted on September 28, 2016

Transparent photovoltaics a promising pathway to solar energy

Ubiquitous Energy is a Silicon Valley technology company leading the development of transparent photovoltaics with its award-winning ClearView Power™ technology—the world's first truly transparent solar technology. With a mission to eliminate the battery life limitations of mobile devices and power smart glass for buildings, Ubiquitous Energy is implementing its ClearView Power technology into a wide range of products as an invisible, onboard source of electricity.
ClearView Power technology is a thin film that covers the display area of electronic products—including wearables, tablets, internet-of-things devices, and digital signage—generating electricity to power these devices. True transparency is achieved by selectively transmitting light visible to the human eye, while converting invisible ultraviolet and near-infrared light into electricity. This allows these invisible films to be integrated directly into the surfaces of electronic products with no degradation of device function or display clarity. Among other applications, ClearView Power technology also serves as an invisible, power-producing coating for windows, providing an onboard power source for electronic window functionality or to offset energy consumption in buildings.
Spun out of MIT, Ubiquitous Energy is producing highly transparent, efficient solar cells in its Silicon Valley pilot production facility in Redwood City, CA. Ubiquitous Energy has raised approximately $10 million to date and has won numerous awards for its business and technology.
Mobile devices
Rapid advances in mobile technologies and global high-bandwidth connectivity have led to a pervasive use of mobile devices. However, there has been little progress in the powering of these devices, and their limited battery life is the final hurdle in making mobile devices truly mobile. Energy harvesting with photovoltaics is an attractive solution, but there is little opportunity to design opaque solar cells into mobile devices whose surfaces are dominated by high-performance displays.
Ubiquitous Energy solves this problem by covering the full display area of mobile devices with its highly transparent ClearView Power film without impacting device aesthetics or display performance. Electricity is continuously generated from ambient light to charge batteries and extend run time. When applied to smart watches, tablets, eReaders, and smartphones, ClearView Power technology can extend battery life and even eliminate batteries for a totally mobile experience.
Rapid advances in highly efficient system-on-chip solutions, smart sensors and low-power radio communications are enabling a vast number of distributed electronic devices. Examples include digital signage, distributed sensors, and devices for building and home automation, as well as medical and environmental monitoring. However, powering these "internet of things" with batteries presents the burdens of limited useful life, increased form factor, and increased costs (e.g., battery replacement and recycling).
Ubiquitous Energy solves these problems by leveraging the surface area of internet-of-things displays for energy harvesting with its highly transparent ClearView Power film. The electricity that is generated from indoor or outdoor ambient light is used to continuously recharge small, low-cost capacitors instead of batteries for infinite device life—all with no aesthetic impact.
Smart glass
Building-integrated solar technologies are a promising pathway to capturing solar energy and increasing building efficiency at the point of electricity utilization. However, the widespread adoption of such technologies is severely hampered by the aesthetics associated with mounting traditional solar cells.
ClearView Power technology is an invisible, power-producing coating for windows. It provides a level of transparency to enjoy natural lighting and a view of surroundings while converting infrared and ultraviolet light into electricity to offset energy consumption. ClearView Power can also serve as an onboard source of electricity to autonomously power electronic smart window functionality.
Ubiquitous Energy has redesigned the solar cell to selectively transmit light visible to the human eye while absorbing only the ultraviolet and infrared light and converting it into electricity. This makes ClearView Power™ technology the first truly transparent solar technology, allowing any surface to convert ambient light into useful electricity without impacting the way it looks. Two thirds of the light available for energy harvesting is in the ultraviolet and the infrared, leading to practical efficiencies over 10% while maintaining up to 90% visible transparency. ClearView Power™ leverages Ubiquitous Energy's technology and patent portfolio, including exclusive rights to award-winning technology developed by the company co-founders at MIT and MSU.
Photovoltaics absorb ambient light and convert it into useful electricity, offering the promise of ubiquitous, clean, renewable energy. However, conventional solar cells are opaque, which limits their use to a few specific applications (e.g., roof mounted) due to aesthetic constraints. Previous attempts to make these solar cells transparent have focused on allowing only a portion of visible light to pass through by either thinning down the photoactive material or segmenting cells across the module area. Because this approach suffers from a tradeoff between transparency and efficiency, neither is achieved.
To bring ClearView Power technology to market, Ubiquitous Energy established prototyping and pilot production capabilities in Silicon Valley with a complete set of fabrication, characterization, and environmental testing tools. This facility is designed to prepare ClearView Power™ for mass production. Non-toxic, readily available materials are deposited by industry-standard vacuum deposition techniques common in high-throughput film coating processes, and the low-temperature deposition process can utilize rigid or flexible substrates. Ubiquitous Energy is currently working with commercial partners to develop engineering and product prototypes for first applications in mobile and distributed electronics.
Harry Zervos of IDTechEx comments "Along with news last week of the €80 million of funding (in the form of investment, loans and grants) that went to heliatek in Germany, this might be an indication that renewed interest is sparked for 3rd generation PV technologies. We could be witnessing a rebirth of OPVs in the making."
Source and images: Ubiquitous Energy