How could the windows of large buildings in a city center, heated by the sun all day long, provide clean energy? A Toronto company is offering its solution: photovoltaic cell blinds.

At first glance, Morgan Solar’s robotic blinds look like any product of the same kind. Their horizontal slats open, close, move up and down using small remote-controlled motors.

But make no mistake: Each of these shades is a technological marvel, capable of producing up to 200 watt-hours, according to John Paul Morgan, an engineer-physicist who started his company in 2007 at the age of 27. It was ranked last year among the 50 fastest-growing environmental companies in Canada by trade magazine Corporate Knights.

Thus, “200 watt-hours multiplied by 1000 windows, this represents a production which can power the lighting system of the building and even more”, affirms this Albertan in more than acceptable French, learned in the Congo during a mission humanitarian with the organization Médecins sans frontières.

This one-year stay in an isolated region made him realize the full potential of the sun’s rays, he says. “Supplying gasoline or diesel was expensive and complicated. It was more logical and economical to produce electricity on site with photovoltaic panels. That’s when I understood that solar energy was the solution of the future. »

Back home, the young engineer created his company with the idea of ​​producing low-cost solar panels to make solar energy as affordable as possible. But faced with the flood of Chinese products, it instead focused its efforts on the design of more efficient panels.

“Instead of hiring salespeople first, I started by hiring scientists,” says John Paul Morgan.

Result of this research: solar panels enhanced with small optical lenses, easy to produce, which concentrate the rays on cells measuring 1 millimeter in size. Placed on a rotating axis, these same panels change orientation to follow the sun like a sunflower, thanks to software created by Morgan Solar researchers.

The combination allows for an increased efficiency of 25%, according to company data.

Another way to improve energy efficiency would be to produce as much electricity as possible where it is consumed, John Paul Morgan always said, captivated by the concentration of large urban buildings hit by solar energy that remains to be channeled .

The installation of translucent solar panels, glued to windows, is not an acceptable solution for occupants who want to benefit from a clear view of the outside. “The question was what to do to capture the energy without blocking the view or the light,” summarizes Mr. Morgan.

The spark came following a project carried out in 2021 at the C.D. Howe building in Ottawa. This 11-story glass block poses problems of excessive heat and light for its occupants. Tenant of the building, the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development asked Morgan Solar to propose a solution and, as a result, to use the windows on the 11th floor as a technological showcase.

“We coupled our guidance software with motorized blinds to control the entry of light. The blinds automatically adjust according to the angle of the sun and the level of cloudiness. Just reducing the air conditioning requirements of just one floor resulted in energy savings of 10%,” says Morgan.

“And that’s when we said, ‘Why not put photovoltaic cells on the blinds?’” », he continues.

The idea of ​​combining blinds and panels offers several advantages, starting with hiding the technology behind a commonly accepted aesthetic. “It looks like any kind of blind,” Morgan says.

What to do with the electricity produced? Two options are available to the owner of the building, explains the president of Morgan Solar: sell electricity to Hydro-Québec or create its own electricity network. “Energy can be stored in batteries to power an internal mini-grid and to serve as an emergency system in the event of a power outage. »

Morgan Solar’s blinds, still at the prototype stage, will be custom designed according to each project. According to Mr. Morgan, the first generation will be installed in buildings in Toronto and Ottawa by next March. A Montreal building was to serve as a demonstration platform, but the economic slowdown caused the project to be postponed, he says. “The developer decided to start with his buildings in Toronto. »

It’s only a matter of time before buildings generate electricity, John Paul Morgan believes. “It’s a cost-effective solution. An owner must provide these buildings with blinds, anyway. With solar sensor blinds, this expense creates a profit for him. »