How Solar Windows Could Save Energy In Every Home

Most people are familiar with self-tinting sunglasses, which turn darker in the sunlight. Now researchers at Princeton have created self-tinting windows, which use UV energy, harvested from the sun, to grow darker when needed. 


May 26 2019, Updated 2:26 p.m. ET

Self-tinting sunglasses have grown popular in recent years. For many people, it's easy to see the appeal. Instead of having to carry two different pairs of glasses and switch every time the light changes, those with prescription eyeglasses can step into the sun with the same pair of glasses they wear indoors, with complete protection. But what if such technology wasn't limited to eyeglasses? What if, for example, the windows in our homes could perform a similar, self-tinting feat?

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Scientists at the University of Princeton published a recent study in the journal Nature Energy which describes their research on this very subject. In fact, thanks to their findings, such windows may soon be coming to a home or other building near you. According to Newatlas, these researchers have developed a smart window system which uses solar power to grow darker and lighter, depending on the specifications of its owner. The most impressive thing about the design? The way the window system utilizes every part of the sun's light, from the UV rays to the infrared light, to create the desired effect. 

Many solar-powered devices utilize only the infrared part of the light spectrum for energy, blocking UV rays altogether. But, according to Newatlas, this new smart window system uses both infrared and UV rays, for maximum efficiency. According to Yueh-Lin Loo, an author of the Princeton study, this new window system is "actually smart management of the entire spectrum of sunlight. Using near-UV light to power these windows means that the solar cells can be transparent and occupy the same footprint of the window without competing for the same spectral range or imposing aesthetic and design constraints." 

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The solar cells Loo refers to are those at the heart of the smart window system. Unlike self-tinting sunglasses, these self-tinting windows are actually made from ordinary glass, with a removable film of electrochromic materials stuck to them. These materials respond to small electrical currents, fading from clear to dark blue when enough solar energy is present. To absorb that solar energy, thin solar cells, made of contorted hexabenzocoronene (cHBC) derivatives, were developed by the Princeton team. 

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According to Newatlas, the research team at Princeton hopes to create a film durable enough for everyday people to stick to their own windows, turning them into high-tech, self-tinting ones. Nicholas Davy, lead author of the Princeton researcher's paper, seems hopeful about the technology's usefulness, and its ability to be easily integrated into everyday life, explaining to Newatlas that, "someone in their house or apartment could take these wireless smart window laminates – which could have a sticky backing that is peeled off – and install them on the interior of their windows. Then you could control the sunlight passing into your home using an app on your phone, thereby instantly improving energy efficiency, comfort and privacy." 

A film which would allow users to turn their ordinary windows into self-tinting, app-controlled, solar-powered pieces of green technology? Thanks to the researchers at Princeton, this technological dream is one step closer to becoming a reality. And dusting the blinds (or needing blinds at all) is one step closer to becoming a thing of the past. 


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