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3M see-through solar films stick onto windows

3M's sticky window solar films are cheaper than traditional solar panels and can generate enough power to juice small electronics.

Tim Hornyak/CNET

MAKUHARI, Japan--What if every window of your home or office could generate power? See-through solar films developed by 3M also make your windows shatter-resistant.

At the Ceatec 2011 electronics trade show outside Tokyo, the company was showing off its green-tinged, flexible transparent photovoltaic films on regular and curved glass surfaces.

It was the second time the tech was being displayed, following a brief showing that unfortunately coincided with the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The films stick onto windows, making them less susceptible to breaking in quake-prone Japan. They consist of five layered sheets and an organic photovoltaic substance.

They also help keep interiors cooler by absorbing more than 90 percent of infrared light, reducing the need for air conditioning in summer. At the 3M booth at Ceatec, there was a 13-degree C difference on one side of a window compared to the other, which was heated by powerful lamps but plastered with the sheets.

Compared to traditional solar panels, the films are easier to install and can work with less sunlight but they are far less effective, with only 3 percent to 8 percent efficiency. A square meter under full sun can generate enough power to recharge a smartphone, according to 3M.

"We've been a pioneer firm in window films, and we had already developed sunshade films and shatter-resistant films, so we added functionality to those," said Fumito Takada of 3M corporate communications.

A separate battery can store power generated by the films, which will hit the Japanese market next year. 3M is aiming at government structures, commercial buildings, and fast-food restaurants as potential customers.

They're expected to be one half to two-thirds the cost of traditional solar panels including installation.