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Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) is America's tallest skyscraper. It will soon receive a solar makeover, making it the nation's largest vertical solar farm.  (Source: Ted Hubert)

The solar panels (artist's concept) will preserve the view, but reduce glare and generate electricity. The installation is expected to produce up to 2 megawatts of power when complete.  (Source: Pythagoras Solar)

Pythagoras Solar's special window design uses prisms to collect direct sunlight will allowing horizontal and diffuse sunlight to pass through, lighting the room.  (Source: Pythagoras Solar)

The actual product is seen here at an industry trade show.  (Source: Pythagoras Solar)
Project will be nation's largest solar farm

Alternative energy startup Pythagoras Solar is dreaming big and it has sold the owners of one of America's most iconic skyscrapers on its vision.

Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower) is among the most recognizable man-made landmarks in the country.  Towering over local high-rises, its 108 stories make it the tallest building in the U.S. and the fifth-tallest freestanding structure in the world.

During summer months solar heating contributes to energy costs and sun glare can be an issue at times.

Pythagoras Solar power has cooked up a novel solution -- transforming the building into the nation's largest vertical solar farm.  The farm will produce up to 2 MW of solar energy, reducing the building's reliance on the power grid.

Its panels -- to be installed on the building's southern-facing windows that get the highest sun exposure -- will help remedy both issues, while preserving the view and producing electricity.

The company's pane design is dubbed high-density photovoltaic glass units (HD-PVGUs).  The device acts similar to louvered windows (think slat blinds).  It contains a thin layer of monocrystalline silicon, sandwiched between glass, which acts as a cell.  An internal plastic prism directs angled (direct) sunlight onto the cell, while allowing diffuse daylight and horizontal (less intense) sunlight through.

The result is that you still have attractive views out the window, without the glare or heating.  Meanwhile your panel produces electricity that Pythagoras Solar claims is on par with rooftop panels.  

If the installation is a success, it could set a precedent for high-rises across America.  The Willis Tower installation alone is expected to produce as much power as a 10-acre ground installation would.

Conserving land, particularly in a city, is obviously a tremendous concern.  The Willis Tower project could serve as a blueprint for skyscraper owners to reduce their energy costs and improve their buildings' sustainability in years to come.

Cost and maintainability are obvious concerns in the long run for solar window panels from companies like Pythagoras Power.  Indeed, Pythagoras Power offered little insight into how it would handle the extra maintenance burden or what the cost-per-window might be.  

That said, even if the company did provide such metrics, it'd be hard to fairly judge them, as this project is the first of its kind on this kind of magnitude.  Initial implementations of any technology typically start off high in terms of maintainability problems and cost, but eventually bring down both metrics.  

And the cost must not be overly exorbitant.  After all, the panels are good PR for the Willis Tower's owners, but they are in business to make money.  If the panels were overly expensive, the project likely wouldn't have received the green light to begin.



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Makes sense
By FITCamaro on 3/22/2011 12:48:14 PM , Rating: 2
As long as I'm not helping pay for it it seems like a solid proposal. Large flat surface in the sun most of the day. The building has huge power requirements so why not use that surface to help meet them.




RE: Makes sense
By quiksilvr on 3/22/2011 1:07:17 PM , Rating: 2
Despite my love for solar, I have a serious problem with this.

This is in Chicago. Land of the rain, sleet, hail, snow, storms and shootings. It all goes down to pricing. How expensive will this have to be in order to withstand that constant abuse? Because at the end of the day, it is just 2 MW.


RE: Makes sense
By Moishe on 3/22/2011 1:32:58 PM , Rating: 2
The good thing about this is that if it works in Chicago, it'll almost definitely work in more Southern cities. On the other hand, if it fails, it could mean nobody else would be willing to try.

Either way, if it stands on its own and can make a profit, I'm all for it.


RE: Makes sense
By Souka on 3/22/2011 2:22:56 PM , Rating: 2
And what happens when/if new buildings go up in front of it?
(yeah yeah, not likely, esp in this economy)

But still...oops....


RE: Makes sense
By JasonMick (blog) on 3/22/2011 3:21:18 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with the original op, durability is a definite design concern. That's what I was alluding to with maintenance.

Since they're deploying outdoors (and in a northern state for that matter) I'm sure they've designed the electrical connections on this panel to be self-enclosed and resistant to normal precipitation, and wind.

That said freak weather conditions like large hail or tornado winds could most cause expensive damage to it, but then again, they would damage windows as well.

Here again, the initial adopter pays the most costs. If these were commonplace in cities across America, it'd likely be possible for building owners to insure the panels against such freak conditions in most areas. Insurance operators would essentially pocket a share of the savings, while safeguarding building operators against unforseen replacement costs (just as they do normal windows/infrastructure, now).

As it is, this may be too new a tech/building material to properly insure it against weather-related damage.

quote:
And what happens when/if new buildings go up in front of it?
(yeah yeah, not likely, esp in this economy)

But still...oops....


As for the question of buildings being erected in front of the south face, again that boils down to simple economics (like the freak weather/replacement issue above).

If the view is blocked, the panels could be sold to the owners of the southern facing building and moved.

There should be no reason why they couldn't uninstall the panels and sell them to the next operator. Obviously transferability will be a long-term design goal if it wasn't already.

But a city of the future blanketed in these things could go a long way towards reducing energy reliance, possibly in a reasonably cost efficient manner... As the city expands, the panels would just be shuffled to the open south faces of the skyline.

I agree with Fit... at face value, in the long-term, this is green-tech that, both liberals and conservatives can love, and pretty much a win-win for everyone:

+ The building owner pays for it (free market/capitalism).
+ It's promoting local high-tech industry (Pythagoras)
+ It reduces CO2 emissions
(regardless of whether you believe they contribute to warming or not).
+ It reduces sulfur, nitrogen-bearing gas emissions (which have been shown to be toxic, create acid rain, regardless of your sentiments on the CO2 debate).
+ It pushes a tech that could one day power space colonies (where traditional fossil fuel deposits won't be found).
+ It doesn't interfere with local wildlife, unlike ground installations (something you may or may not care about).
+ It offers minimal alteration of the city skyline (which some may care about from an artistic/aesthetic standpoint).


RE: Makes sense
By Azethoth on 3/23/2011 1:40:27 AM , Rating: 2
It needs a remote-controlled lowering mechanism like in the opening scenes of Blade Runner. That's when I jump aboard.


RE: Makes sense
By mooty on 3/23/2011 10:42:35 AM , Rating: 2
I'd put the actual solar-"panels" between the two sheets of the vacuum-glass panels. (the kind of which I am assuming they are using) That would protect the panels from practically all kinds of bad weather, while adding little extra cost.


RE: Makes sense
By iamezza on 3/22/2011 2:55:43 PM , Rating: 3
It seems like it would make the most sense in a city that has a high latitude but also unusually hot and sunny weather relative to it's latitude. This way it could get the maximum sun hitting the Southern side of the building.

If you put it in a southern city the sun would be directly above during the daytime in summer, so you would have to install the windows on the East and West of the building instead.


RE: Makes sense
By Shadowmaster625 on 3/23/2011 8:45:10 AM , Rating: 2
That depends. Projects like this only work in places where they allow billions in deficits to never be balanced.


RE: Makes sense
By FITCamaro on 3/22/11, Rating: 0
RE: Makes sense
By torpor on 3/22/2011 4:09:37 PM , Rating: 2
But putting it on the South side of the building means it will address the sun well, perhaps better than a rooftop panel could do.

Putting one side of a building into solar generation would not work so well somewhere like Florida, where there's more sun, but the sun is more vertical. I read an article on Slashdot recently talking about China building greenhouses into the side of hills, which seems to be a similar design solution.


RE: Makes sense
By BSMonitor on 3/23/2011 10:57:24 AM , Rating: 5
Lmao. This is what I love about this guy. Does not even know where the Sears tower is, yet still has an opinion on the climate in the Chicago area. An opinion that should be taken for factual evidence that this is not a good idea..

Dude, you crack me up.


RE: Makes sense
By mikeyD95125 on 3/24/2011 3:32:40 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah it's good stuff. Any article mentioning federal funding is instantly slammed with a automatic "THAT'S NOT THEIR JOB" comment.


RE: Makes sense
By deathwombat on 3/22/2011 2:17:41 PM , Rating: 5
2 MW is nothing to sneeze at. That's enough to power 80,000 25 W fluorescent lights -- 740 lights per floor, which is probably pretty close to how many lights the tower has.

Alternatively, it's enough power to run 10,000 workstations @ 200W/computer. There are probably more computers than that in the building, but it's still a good start.

It's probably enough to power 2000 laser printers (20 per floor) or 1000 photocopiers. I mean, yes, it's a drop in the bucket when you consider the total power consumption of a building that size, but if I came up with a way to produce enough power to run every light in the building, or most of the computers, or half of the printers, most people would be impressed with that.

Also, remember that the farther you are from the equator, the longer the days get in the summer, when electricity demand spikes due to air conditioners. The cooling requirements of a building that size are enormous. Most of the heat is coming from printers and photocopiers and body heat, but sunlight definitely contributes to those needs, and a panel that captures or reflects some of that light would measurably reduce the building's cooling costs, and take up to 2 MW off of the grid during the period of peak demand. 2 MW could reduce the local incidences of brownouts and rolling blackouts.


RE: Makes sense
By quiksilvr on 3/22/2011 3:45:16 PM , Rating: 2
2 MW is nothing to sneeze at if they keep the price realistic and maintenance costs down. Otherwise it isn't worth it.


RE: Makes sense
By bah12 on 3/22/2011 5:48:08 PM , Rating: 2
Correct, listing the number or random electrical devices it can run is irrelevant. 2MW is 2MW it will either pay or not, and as long as my tax dollar is not funding it (as usual) then kudos for doing it.


RE: Makes sense
By callmeroy on 3/23/2011 3:25:28 PM , Rating: 2
Ditto.

Seems like a cool project to me - if people are serious about this solar panel thing ever kicking off you need a major "test bed" project like this to happen anyway.

....just don't use tax dollars for it.


RE: Makes sense
By Keeir on 3/22/2011 7:16:10 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
2 MW is nothing to sneeze at.


Errr... Power DNE Energy. A 2 MW peak solar installation will likely only net around 3-6 MWh a day. In other words... its likely to only light those flourescent lights for 2-3 hours a day max.

Maybe this vertical solar farm will be different, but other types of installed solar have very low avaliblity rates for the power genetation.

I am going to say that they may save more on cooling costs than the save on the electricity produced.


RE: Makes sense
By bobsmith1492 on 3/22/2011 10:38:43 PM , Rating: 2
Conversely, as this is Chicago after all, they may lose more on heating costs than they gain in electricity costs...


RE: Makes sense
By Iaiken on 3/22/2011 1:30:49 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
If the panels were overly expensive, the project likely wouldn't have received the green light to begin.


They probably allowed the building to qualify for some form of eco-related tax breaks that will keep you up awake at night and muttering about your hate of eco-hippies...


RE: Makes sense
By Gzus666 on 3/22/2011 1:36:23 PM , Rating: 2
This response is reasonable. Who are you and what happened to FIT? Someone call Hell and see if they got any blizzard warnings.


RE: Makes sense
By FITCamaro on 3/22/2011 2:02:38 PM , Rating: 3
I am quite reasonable when others want to spend their own money on something. What I have a problem is is when people want to spend the taxpayers money on something that helps technologies that don't work yet and are trying to be forced on us by those who don't like current technology.

As another user commented, there will likely be tax breaks on the panels. So it will be taxpayer subsidized.

So in that light. RABBLE! RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE! /southparkresident


RE: Makes sense
By Gzus666 on 3/22/2011 4:46:38 PM , Rating: 2
While I dislike taxes, probably more so than many others my age considering my high income, I am less concerned with small energy tax breaks and more concerned with large corporations not paying a dime in taxes.

http://money.cnn.com/2010/04/16/news/companies/ge_...

That is more of an outrage in my book. So while I dislike social programs such as welfare and medicare, I dislike major corporations not paying anything due to government corruption. Mind you they all paid taxes in other countries, cause they don't have the loopholes there.


RE: Makes sense
By FITCamaro on 3/22/2011 6:12:11 PM , Rating: 1
Small things add up. Well with the 2nd highest (soon to be highest) corporate tax rate in the world, companies have reason to try to avoid paying taxes in the US and pay them in other countries instead. Our government has only itself to blame for discouraging companies to pay taxes here and preferring to move their profits overseas.


RE: Makes sense
By Gzus666 on 3/22/2011 6:18:49 PM , Rating: 2
I didn't blame the companies, I blamed government corruption. Usually if people are trying to save money, they work on the big things first. If you make billions and pay no taxes, that is an issue. Meanwhile, I make a few ticks below six figures and I have to pay more than 1/4 of my pay in taxes. Clearly that is not fair by any stretch of the imagination.


RE: Makes sense
By FITCamaro on 3/22/2011 11:16:16 PM , Rating: 1
Well again, its not that they don't pay taxes. They just don't pay them here. If a company can save money, its going to do so. To not would be bad business.

Unless we bring our corporate tax rates down to the 20-25% range, this will continue.

One thing I love is all the bitching you hear about the oil companies from liberals in the House and Senate (despite said oil companies paying massive amounts of taxes and fees), yet a company like GE paying no taxes(2010) isn't even mentioned. Why? Because their CEO is on Obama's friends list.


RE: Makes sense
By Azethoth on 3/23/2011 1:51:43 AM , Rating: 2
Hear Ye, Hear Ye. I am not a liberal but I hereby officially bitch about the ($30 billion a year?) subsidies we provide to oil companies. There is no sense in subsidizing a supremely profitable 100 year old industry.

I am also ok with some temporary subsidies for solar. Why? It is clearly very close to ramping scale and efficiency to the point of competing. It is also the only source other than nuclear that can actually power the future in the volumes required.

However, once it scales I am goddamned if I want to see subsidies continue. 100 years later would make me throw up in my mouth.


RE: Makes sense
By Keeir on 3/23/2011 3:57:54 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Why? It is clearly very close to ramping scale and efficiency to the point of competing


What?!?!

Not only would local solar be very expensive in most of the US, 5-10 times Nuclear and Coal Wholesale rates, Solar will always face the problem of availibity. (The Palo Verde firm on peak spot is 0.03492 dollars per kWh... in comparison, Germany provides a FiT rate of 21.1 EuroCents per kWh ~ .3 USD dollars per kWh for Solar installations... which is in addition to the wholesale rate they get for the power)

If you want 100% power supply from Solar, you need to have large amounts of Battery or Pumped Hydro storage... or deal with around the globe transmission losses. These are issues that are not dealt with yet..

Its not that I am against Solar. It certainly could make sense if you live in a state with high electricity rates, high solar isolation, and could lower your installation and maintainence costs with a little elbow greases.

But even in Arizona, its hard to make Solar an economically attactrive alternative at retail rates, let alone wholesale rates or even worse, wholesale rates - grid balancing costs.


RE: Makes sense
By Gzus666 on 3/23/2011 12:17:24 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Well again, its not that they don't pay taxes. They just don't pay them here.


Well, I don't really care what they do elsewhere, as I live in America. They pay taxes elsewhere because they have to, they don't here because they don't have to. The obvious fix is to make them pay them here.

The amount of the taxation is another issue to take up entirely. If they would pay taxes when they were in the 20-25% range, why don't they just pay 20-25%? They paid nothing, some cases they got money back.

I don't care about oil companies at this point, I care about fairness across the board. Favoritism is one of the major issues in this country. Corporatism is becoming the norm, that is not good for any citizen of this or any society. The goal is a working society that is beneficial to all, not a society that benefits sociopathy.

At the end of the day, I'm not starving. I make good money and I have no financial issues. I would like to pay less taxes, but I don't get that choice, lobbyists do.

The problem I see is the lower middle class that do jobs that not anyone can do, but don't pay well. Many of these jobs are very taxing mentally, require degrees and in depth knowledge such as teaching, but don't pay for crap. These people get taxed to the point where they are basically broke and GE doesn't pay a dime.

GE isn't exactly a grand company, they turned the Hudson river into a toxic swamp. They dumped toxic chemicals into water bodies pretty frequently in the past, so obviously letting them just do what seems convenient for the company doesn't work. But since most every large corporation pays to lobby our government, corruption runs rampant. The problem runs to the core, the no taxes is just a symptom I hate.


RE: Makes sense
By ipay on 3/22/2011 2:02:59 PM , Rating: 2
Don't worry... Until the good-hearted agencies (aka banks) get us in another crisis, you are allowed to keep your money, and spend it on your next apple fix ;)


RE: Makes sense
By FITCamaro on 3/22/2011 2:04:51 PM , Rating: 1
Uh....I hate Apple.


RE: Makes sense
By joe4324 on 3/22/2011 2:15:21 PM , Rating: 2
So do you also oppose oil and gas subsidies? I have been paying for those out of my pocket for well since I've been a tax payer, Same for nukes. Just keeping it real maybe you really can pay for some of my solar panels. Gotta share the love you know ;)


RE: Makes sense
By BZDTemp on 3/22/2011 7:22:50 PM , Rating: 2
I makes some sense the only question is if it would have made more sense to put the solar panels in a field somewhere.

It's like those skyscrapers with build in wind turbines. While very nice and all it's very likely the load of money put into having turbines on the buildings could have payed for a lot more turbines build separately.


2 MW per what?
By fezzik1620 on 3/22/2011 4:14:52 PM , Rating: 1
Is it just 2 MW over the life of the building? 2 MW/day? 2 MW/month? 2 MW/year? That would make a big difference. What are we actually talking about here?

Feel free to smack me down if it is in the article and I just missed it, but I'm not seeing it.




RE: 2 MW per what?
By McDragon on 3/22/2011 5:16:27 PM , Rating: 3
You're confusing power with energy. 2MW is a power output at one instance in time...if it can deliver this constantly over an hour, then it will have produced 2MWh of energy.


RE: 2 MW per what?
By Azethoth on 3/23/2011 1:58:42 AM , Rating: 2
Actually he is not confusing the two. He is specifically asking what exactly the energy output is. Everyone wants to know because without knowing that even the "printers powered per floor" and other exciting calculations above are meaningless.


Cool
By BruceLeet on 3/22/2011 2:02:26 PM , Rating: 2
Wonder how suitable it would be for the Luxor hotel. I do not know the technology but surely MGM Resorts International can afford such technology.




OK, maybe
By diggernash on 3/23/2011 7:16:09 PM , Rating: 1
I third or fourth those above that are OK with this as long as not one dime of tax dollars are given to them; local, state, or national.

I also have a dumb question. If solar is close to a feasible power alternative, why have certain countries that are contain vast arid areas not using it and then selling us all of their oil and natural gas? I suppose the numbers just don't add up for them. I also suppose that the fact that alternative energy sources are tax vampires should have already answered my question...




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