BISTEG was founded in 2013 to increase the availability of point-of-use renewable energy by making solar energy beautiful and adaptable.
Electric power generation accounts for 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions (CCES 2017). The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity is the largest single source of global greenhouse emissions (EPA 2017) and governments around the world are now setting clean energy goals. For example, legislation in California requires 50% of California’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2030 (CEC2015) and Germany intends to have 80% power generation come from renewables by 2050 (Bershidsky 2015). Consequently, demand for renewable, ‘clean’ energy has risen steadily over the past several decades. Last year, global investment in renewable power capacity, at $265.8 billion, was more than double dollar allocations to new coal and gas generation. Developing and emerging economies, alone, committed $156 billion to renewable — an astonishing 17 times 2004 levels (Frankfurt School, 2016).
Sandy Ground Elementary School (Staten Island NY) front (right) and rear is the first Net Zero public school building that generates as much power as it consumes.
Nonetheless, photovoltaic technologies are impractical to meet the demand for renewable energy at the building scale. For example, NetZero buildings are designed to generate as much power as they consume, on balance. Figure 1 above shows photographs of the first Net Zero public school in the United States. The black PV panels on the roof and back of the building create an unappealing look that limits wider adoption of PV.
In response to this growing demand for renewable energy technologies, this proposal seeks funds to research and develop a new building integrated solar thermal electric generation (BISTEG) technology that provides an adaptive, attractive option for urban solar energy generation that can be applicable to the vertical exterior walls of the built environment where photovolatics (PV) is currently unsuitable for aesthetic reasons. At the utility scale, solar thermal technologies are already competitive with or superior to PV (Mills 2004). When building designers use solar power, they almost always use PV panels, because these are more easily deployed in modules that are cost-effective at smaller scales. For example, the ASU campus is now a leader in building-integrated solar PV generation, having covered rooftops, parking lots and structures, and patios with a canopy of solar panels capable of generating up to 23.5 MW. Of this total, only 2.3 MW (about 10%) is solar thermal, with the remainder PV, illustrating the dominance of PV technologies at building scales (ASU 2013).
The principal technical challenges are: improving power output of BISTEG prototypes, reducing costs, and expanding aesthetic options. The current team has constructed several proof of concept models and generated significant power from a single array using colored lenses (Figure 3). Additional funds are sought to improve the configuration for maximum power generation, test new TEG cells, gather experimental data to calibrate a cost model, and experiment with new shapes and colors.