According to a press release from Sharp, the new panels can be used in a conventional manner mounted on the roof but were primarily designed to be used as protective porch railings or as window glass. The semi-transparent black panels are lacking the metal frame found on typical panels and instead are constructed mainly of laminated glass filled with photovoltaic cells. They are each 4.5 feet wide by 3.2 feet tall and only 0.37 inches thick, which is much thinner than standard panels.
One downside? They have a maximum power output of only 95 watts with around 6.8 percent efficiency, which is far below the 20 percent efficiency being produced on today's modern solar panels. However, while they may not be as efficient (and I'm sure over time the efficiency will improve) they are semi-transparent, and thus can be integrated anywhere glass is used in construction. Sharp hopes to eventually integrate the panels directly with building materials so that any available glass surface can be converted into a power-generating solar panel.
If we could retrofit every high-rise building's standard windows with this solar panel glass, our buildings would each become its own power plant capable of generating at least a percentage of its energy needs. The new panels will be launched in Japan but no word yet on price nor availability dates in the U.S. Let's hope it sooner rather than later.
[Image from CNET]