• A rendering depicting Sharp's new light-transmitting solar panels used as guardrails.

    Credit: Courtesy Sharp Corp.

    A rendering depicting Sharp's new light-transmitting solar panels used as guardrails.

One of the heavily promoted applications of solar panels is their use in building retrofits. Rooftop solar-panel installations represent an effective way to upgrade an existing building, especially if the structure has an expansive roof area. For obvious reasons, the case for retrofitting tall buildings that have relatively small footprints with rooftop solar cells is more difficult to make, however, prompting the development of vertical solutions.

Sharp Corp., a Japan-based electronics manufacturer with one of the highest global production volumes of solar cells, has recently announced the development of a light-transmitting solar energy panel for vertical surfaces. The partially transparent, black-colored unit is made of laminated glass with integral photovoltaic cells, and is suitable for building glazing or see-through guardrails. According to Sharp, the panel also acts as a heat shield, giving it solar radiation-screening capabilities.

The solar energy panel was made commercially available in Japan this month, with a near 7 percent conversion efficiency and a total power output of 95 watts. While these figures are unremarkable, they are certainly an improvement over the alternative. Although a return to the days of dark glass-clad buildings is not necessarily a welcome development, the availability of technology that enables both new and existing buildings to play an active role in energy-generation is positive news.