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Coming to a mall near you: Power-generating windows

Thin-film solar company HelioVolt signs on Architectural Glass & Aluminum to build curtain walls, or large windows, with integrated solar cells.

Solar company HelioVolt and Architectural Glass & Aluminum on Tuesday announced a partnership to produce glass windows capable of generating electricity.

HelioVolt is one of several new solar manufacturers using different materials to produce thin-film solar cells.

HelioVolt's solar cell which it will put into solar panels and embe into building materials. HelioVolt

The company intends to make solar cells for rooftop panels and later get into building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), where cells are embedded onto roof shingles, blinds, awnings, or other building components.

The deal with Architectural Glass & Aluminum calls for the companies to design solar-enabled curtain walls, the glass facades on the outside of buildings, or architectural glass in the interior of buildings.

Citing a Department of Energy study, HelioVolt said that solar cells integrated into buildings can produce about half of a building's energy usage.

Last week, another thin-film solar producer, Global Solar Energy, announced a partnership with Dow to make solar shingles.

Another company doing solar-enabled roofing is DRI Energy, a division of a construction company that has developed roof shingles and solar cells that glue onto flat roofs of commercial buildings.

In its coverage, Greentech Media pointed out that BIPV has a number of technical challenges, making the days of power-generating windows a few years away.

Specifically, solar cells typically have a shorter warranty--at 20 or 25 years--than many building materials. Thin-film cells made from CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide), as HelioVolt is making, corrode more in water than traditional silicon cells.