Location: Silicon Valley, California, USA
The Sun is the Earth’s ultimate source of renewable energy. Not only is solar energy abundant, but it also brings us cleaner air and water. While in the past it was rare to see anything but plants use sunlight for energy, today, it’s not hard to imagine solar power being used to heat a home or light an office. Yet, despite the promise of solar, countries are still heavily dependent on traditional energy sources like coal and oil. For example, coal provides around 30% of the world’s energy needs and generates over 40% of the world’s electricity. However, it is the largest contributor to climate change, impacting both air quality and local biodiversity. Ubiquitous Energy, a Silicon Valley startup, aims to accelerate the adoption of clean energy by applying solar technology in a new way.
In 2011, Miles Barr, Vladimir Bulović and Richard Lunt founded Ubiquitous Energy in the hope of developing affordable, transparent solar cells for everyday products. Their ClearView Power technology is a see-through coating applied to glass or film that converts light into energy. What makes it unique is the way it absorbs light. Regular solar panels use opaque photovoltaic (PV) materials, whereas this technology uses transparent PV materials thus avoiding a tradeoff between transparency and efficiency caused by the former. The solar cells only absorb ultraviolet and infrared light, which can generate large amounts of electricity. Visible light passes through unhindered, explaining how the company’s solar cells can be made entirely transparent. With some creative thinking, it’s not difficult to see the many practical applications of this technology. For example, transparent solar cells could turn windows into solar panels, generating electricity for heating or electronic window functionality. They could also be used to charge every day products like smartphones and tablets with the power of the sun.
While the company is still in the research and development phase, it is exploring various materials and designs for its product. The company hopes to accomplish greater efficiencies while maintaining its ability to transmit light. In April 2014, Ubiquitous Energy secured $5.8 million in funding, topping off $1 million in seed funding and about $1 million in grants. Furthermore, they have won several awards for their business and technology, including a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation, and the MIT Clean Energy Prize in the renewables category. Using the most ubiquitous source of energy, Ubiquitous Energy promises a bright and transparent future for solar.
Environmental Impact: Avoided use of fossil fuels, including avoided emission of GHGs and harmful substances
Measurement: US Environmental Protection Agency
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