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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 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.


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