Ahead of the Superyacht Design Festival in Kitzbühel next January, Lucy Dunn sits down with Susan Stone, CEO of Ubiquitous Energy to hear about her company’s groundbreaking solar windows and how they could transform the future of superyacht design. The 2024 edition is set to take place on 28-30 January and tickets are available to purchase now.
Your transparent windows do the same job as traditional solar panels in capturing energy and turning it into electricity. Can you explain how they work in simple terms?
What we do is we follow the same principles as conventional photovoltaics "solar electricity panels", which capture the sun's energy and convert it into electricity, but we use organic photovoltaic materials instead of silicon.
Our chemistry and photovoltaic device teams work together to invent new molecules that are able to harvest all the light that you can’t see, ie. UV light, infrared and near infrared. We've embedded these molecules into a special patented transparent coating. All the light you can see then passes through it and we harvest the non-visible light, turning it into electrons which are then available for use as energy. So, it’s perfect for windows and architectural glass.
How did this technology come about?
It was originally an idea from three academics from MIT, our co-founders Vladimir Bulović, Richard Lunt and Miles Barr who were all passionate about renewable energy, particularly solar energy. They realised that it wasn't about finding some new whizbang technology that had never been invented before, instead it was about figuring out how we can get solar more broadly deployed.
Silicon solar panels are really ugly, so their challenge was to see if they could find a more attractive way of capturing the sun’s energy.
And you can coat any kind of glass?
Yes we can. Of course there’s always boundaries, but initially we want to focus on glazing buildings, construction and transportation as we have an opportunity to make an enormous impact in these areas. But in the future, there's no reason that we couldn't coat other materials, potentially a flexible substrate, fabrics… There are all kinds of things we could do.
And any size of glass?
That’s our next step. The technology is ready to scale up to full-sized floor-to-ceiling windows and we’re currently finalising the plan to build a production facility to enable this. Our glass is already installed in 11 buildings around the world including Tokyo and the US. Some of our installations have been up for more than two years and we’re really seeing some great results and solid data from them.
How much electricity do your windows produce?
You can’t heat a block of flats with them just yet, but even with conventional solar it's rare to be able to offset 100% of a commercial building's energy needs.
With our current formulations that we're going to market with, we can offset anywhere from 10 to 30% of a building's energy needs by glazing an entire building, which is a really nice offset for most owners. Additionally, there is still some headroom for improvement in the technology.
How do you see this technology helping yacht design?
I think it is an important piece in the puzzle. We actually have someone on our Board of Directors who is building a net-zero yacht and we talk about how, in order to truly get that truly sustainable build, you have to piece together lots of different materials and everything has to work together. And of course, there is so much glass on these yachts and with all the light hitting them and the light reflecting from the water, they’re the perfect conditions for solar glass.
There's also often a tradeoff between the amount of glass that you can put on a structure and the energy efficiency that you can get. By using that glass for an active purpose, we can offset that tradeoff and encourage more beautiful glass in our structures and our boats. I also love the concept of dual-purpose materials like solar windows or decking materials embedded with silicon PV, which help eliminate the need for tradeoffs when selecting materials.Read More/Everything you need to know about the Superyacht Design Festival 2024
Where do you see the future?
We’ve come a long way since I first joined the company’s board in 2014 when we were making solar glass the size of postage stamps! Four years ago, once we matured the technology enough to commercialise it, I came on board as CEO - and I still wake up excited every single day excited about the potential of this technology.
We're getting bombarded with photons on this planet every single day. I want to see every surface that sees the sun generating electricity; every home and every car harvesting sun, all our consumer electronics devices harvesting sunlight. That's my long term goal.BUY TICKETS HERE