Buildings could soon be able to convert the sun’s energy directly into electricity without the need for solar panels if an innovative technology being developed at Exeter university in the UK comes to fruition.
What is being called ‘a pioneering new technique’ could accelerate the widespread introduction of net-zero energy buildings. The generic term for the technology is ‘building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). The innovative glass block being developed is similar to the solar tile created by Tesla, and it can be incorporated into the fabric of a building.
The blocks, called Solar Squared, are designed to fit seamlessly into new buildings, or they can be employed as part of renovations in existing properties. They are similar to existing architectural glass blocks in that they allow daylight into a property by replacing traditional bricks and mortar with transparent glass bricks.
The difference is that these blocks have ‘intelligent optics’ that focus solar irradiation on to small solar cells, enhancing the overall energy efficiency of each cell.  
The Exeter team, which has created a start-up company Build Solar to market and produce their new product, is now looking for investment that will enable them to carry out commercial testing of the product, with the aim of marketing in 2018.
Dr Hasan Baig, founder of Build Solar and a research fellow at Exeter  University’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, commented: “BIPV is a growing industry with a 16% annual growth rate. We are aiming to build integrated, affordable, efficient and attractive solar technologies, which have the smallest impact on the local landscape.”
The Build Solar team believe their blocks have better thermal insulation than traditional glass blocks, as well as providing power to the building. The patent pending technology is at prototype stage and the team are now in the process of fine-tuning their designs in order to test the technology at pilot sites.