Solar cell glass changes with the light

Photovoltaic glass, ‘solar cell glass’, was chosen as the perfect material to include in The Science Pyramid at Denver Botanic Gardens. The building was designed by Burkett Design to reflect the museum’s focus on biomimicry – the way human inventors and engineers are inspired by nature’s solutions to problems. 

The very shape of the building –  although it is called a pyramid it is much more complex than that – makes it look like it is emerging from the earth itself.

As Museum CEO Brian Vogt describes it “The structure recalls the formation of the Rocky Mountains, as it represents tectonic plates crashing together. Its hexagonal, or honeycomb-inspired, exterior panels pay tribute to the world’s greatest pollinators. The remarkable scientific work of our research and conservation team will be made accessible to all through the technologically advanced exhibits inside.”

“The result has been amazing”

Museums necessarily require large areas without windows for exhibits to be displayed. So while most of the hexagons in the bee hive-inspired exterior are opaque, the windows change throughout the course of the day and night.

The custom made 8-sided windows are electro-chromic. That is, they change from being 97% opaque during the bright light of high noon to being almost completely transparent at night. The technology is similar to transitional eye glass lenses. These windows, though, have another aspect. Each of them is actually a solar panel, generating electricity for the museum’s lighting and displays. They were made by Onyx Solar, the world’s leading manufacturer of transparent photovoltaic glass for buildings.

Burkett Design Project Manager Barton Harris added that “not only was the colour of the photovoltaic glass carefully chosen to match the colour of the surrounding modules, but its surface was coated with a similar sheen”.

And on a practical note, the transitional aspect of the glass reduced heating/air conditioning costs and of course the photovoltaic aspect reduced electricity bills.

Mr. Vogt says “We wanted to include photovoltaic glass efficiently, and at the same time attractively, and the result has been absolutely amazing”.

The editors of highly respected engineering magazine ENR (Engineering News Record ) obviously agreed. They named the building Best Regional Project in Colorado 2015.

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