In a move that could soon make solar panels on homes and buildings the norm rather than the exception, Sharp has introduced new see-through solar panels that can be integrated invisibly as architectural glass or safety equipment.

According to a press release from Sharp, while the new panels can be used in a conventional manner mounted on the roof they were designed primarily to be used as protective porch railings or as in-place 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 found on the market today.

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 they are semi-transparent and thus can be integrated anywhere glass is used in building construction. Sharp hopes to eventually integrate the panels directly within building materials so that any available glass surface can be used as a power-generating solar panel.

In the meantime, if we could retrofit every high-rise building’s standard windows with this solar panel glass, 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 on October 1 but no word yet on price nor availability dates in the U.S. Let’s hope it sooner rather than later.

[via CNET]

Image Credit: Sharp Japan