Researchers are back with another incredible technology, a fully transparent solar concentrator which has the capability of turning any window or sheet of glass into a photovoltaic solar cell. This new transparent solar cell could be used as a window, which was once thought to be impossible, because traditional solar panels absorb light and turn it into energy, but a transparent surface is not typically able to absorb light. Also vision is not compromised..
Just think, you could keep your phone charged whenever you are outdoors or in the sun. The incoming solar energy of tall buildings can also be harvested using this. Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a new type of solar concentrator which uses transparent, uncoloured plastic that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window. According to lead researcher Richard Lunt, the team is confident that these transparent solar connectors can be efficiently used in numerous settings from “tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader.”
Researchers opted for a different system called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC), which contains organic salts that absorb specific non-visible wavelengths of sunlight, ultraviolet and infrared light, which they then glow as another wavelength of infrared light (also non-visible). This emitted light is then guided towards traditional photovoltaic solar cells which are able to trap the energy and convert it into electricity. Since the absorbed wavelengths are not visible for us, the material looks transparent.
The most important feature is that harvesting the light for power can be layered on top of a clear piece of glass without completely weakening the sunlight’s ability to pass through it. The perimeter of the cell contains small photovoltaic strips, which means it is basically a miniaturized version of a solar panel. These react with infrared light, which is invisible to the naked eye and produces solar electricity.
Solar concentrators are different from solar panels because they trap light and then direct it outward to the edge of the conductor where the solar cells, which generate energy, are located. They are more efficient and cost-effective than solar panels, which lose a lot of energy to heat and require expensive devices to direct as much sunlight as possible toward them.
The efficiency is currently low 1%, but researchers are confident that they can reach at least 5% in the near future. You may be thinking these figures are so small, but multiply that by every window in a house, or car and you can begin to see that this could be very beneficial, particularly for skyscrapers and office buildings where virtually every wall is just windows.
The new technology would lead to energy efficient systems as the newly developed transparent luminescent solar concentrator can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface. Their technology is an invisible film that can go on any surface and generate power, which could lead to cell phones, and tablets that never run out of batteries or skyscrapers that can use their massive banks of windows as solar panels.
Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results. The energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly coloured.
One of the benefits of this new development is its flexibility. It is a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface. While the technology is at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or industrial applications with an affordable cost.
A transparent solar panel is something like an oxymoron. I.e. Solar cells, mainly the photovoltaic kind, make energy by absorbing photons (sunlight) and converting them into electrons (electricity). Then if a material is transparent by definition it means that all of the light passes through the medium to strike the back of your eye. This is why previous transparent solar cells have actually only been partially transparent obscuring the view.
The researchers are confident that the technology can be used all the way from large industrial and commercial applications being affordable. So far, one of the larger barriers to large-scale adoption of solar power is the intrusive nature of solar panels. If we can produce large amounts of solar power from sheets of glass and plastic that look like normal sheets of glass and plastic, then that would be big.
This inspiring innovation could greatly expand the reach of solar power. In fact energy from the sun itself is virtually free! All you need is the solar connector and you are good to go. This also means that buildings of the future are covered in the energy-producing panels. Anyways renewable energy is our future and its scope is very exciting….