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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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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 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.

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.

"I modded down, down, down, and the flames went higher." -- Sven Olsen

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