The list of what the land of Israel has bestowed upon the world is virtually immeasurable.
It is the birthplace of three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and has provided some of the greatest politicians and diplomats the world has ever known (Abba Eban, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin). What is less known (at least outside of its own borders) about the country is that it is also a hotbed for technological innovation.
In 1991, the state of Israel’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor launched the Technological Incubators program, whose express purpose was “to transform innovative technological ideas that are too risky and in too early stage for private investments into viable startup companies that, after the incubator term, are able to raise money from the private sector and operate on their own.”
From one such incubator program came a company called Pythagoras Solar, a manufacturer of building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels that, through the vision of founders Dr. Itay Baruchi, an award-winning physicist, and Gonen Fink, a leader in taking Check Point Software from start-up to a multibillion dollar company, saw an opportunity to develop a new kind of BIPV.
How It Came To Be
Brendan Dillon, director of product marketing for Pythagoras Solar, said the initial impetus for the company’s Photovoltaic Glass Unit (PVGU) was that the founders understood that for solar to be a serious energy option for Israel, it would have to move beyond building solar farms in the desert.
They realized pretty early on that distributed solar energy was going to be the wave of the future,” Dillon says. “So they started looking at different information about the solar industry and devised a plan to accelerate its development.”
Dillon says Baruchi and Fink came up with some prototypes for transparent solar panels. It was through trial and error that they came to develop the PVGU, which were designed around the basic elements of a double-paned window. Baruchi and Fink decided the product had to have three critical attributes before it could be commercially viable:
It had to replace a more traditional building product;
It had to generate electricity; and
It needed to be aesthetically pleasing enough for architects to be willing to specify the product as part of their original designs.
How They Work
According to the company’s website, the first Pythagoras Solar PVGU products were designed for vertical curtain walls and skylight applications. They can also be optimized for elevation, location and climate zone through Pythagoras’ proprietary software tools.
Dillon says the product is two separate pieces of glass separated by air, PV tiles, optics systems and prisms attached to the solar cells (see diagram). Pythagoras produces 5 ft. by 5 ft. windows that are then sold to glazing companies.
The glazed windows are used in curtain and two insulated negative leads come out of each unit. The leads are attached to the same balance-of-systems (BOS) and inverters that are used with other systems. Windows are then connected in parallel and attached to inverters on the roof or in a closet.
“The way these windows are built basically doubles the efficiency of the cells,” Dillon says. “It also blocks the light from going into the building, which immediately makes the buildings more energy efficient.
Pythagoras started pilot installations in 2010 with three buildings in Israel and the Sears Tower in Chicago. The company completed the first installation at the Sears Tower two months ago. The owner was developing a program and examined a number of different technologies.
“We were the first technology deployed in a small installation on the 56th floor,” Dillon says. “It validated a lot of the claims we were making.”
Dillon says the project will take a few years to put together. Pythagoras will be working closely with the developers so when the project really takes off, it can be there to support them.
“We’ve had a good response from the architects around the world,” Dillon says. “For many architects, solar PV doesn’t make any sense economically or aesthetically. Most architects see this product and think immediately about how they can use it for different parts of the building.”
Dillon says the company is working on projects this year and moving into 2013.