These Clear Solar Cells Can Turn Any Glass Surface Into Power
By Heather Callaghan, Editor
A class of new, transparent tech can allow us to harvest massive amounts of energy from glass surfaces like building and car windows, cell phones and other translucent surfaces.
Scientists at Michigan State University detailed in a paper in the journal Nature Energy how highly transparent solar applications could “nearly meet U.S. electricity demand” and drastically reduce reliance upon fossil fuels.
“We will see commercial products become available over the next few years,” Richard Lunt, an associate professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU, tells Newsweek. “We are just beginning to hit performance metrics that make sense to scale up.”
Lunt and his MSU colleagues have previously pioneered solar technology that collects energy from invisible wavelengths of light so that it doesn’t disrupt the view when placed over a window.
The system uses materials to pick up ultraviolet and near infrared wavelengths, which are guided to the edge of the surface they are on for it to be converted into electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.
The ultra-thin solar discs could be fitted into windows or even smart phone screens so that those surfaces would not need to be replaced in order to generate electric power.
“While adoption of conventional photovoltaics on rooftops and in solar farms has grown rapidly in the last decade, there is still plenty of opportunity for expansion,” the paper states.
Unfortunately, this tech is in budding stages so its efficiency is only 5% compared to traditional solar tech’s 15-18%. On the other hand, traditional solar panels have been worked on for decades, whereas transparent solar tech is barely five years old.
See-through solar technologies with partial light transmission developed over the past 30 years have initiated methods of integration not possible with conventional modules.
The researchers think the “untapped” potential of this power source is vast.
“An estimated 5 billion to 7 billion square meters of glass surface in the United States could be used to meet 40 percent of the country’s energy demand, or “close to 100 percent” if energy storage is improved,” reports GNN.
Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.
Still, the one thing these glowing reports never emphasize are the vast resources needed to produce solar panels and the waste byproducts left behind. We need to acknowledge the tech’s potential to get destroyed from natural disasters. These things should be considered before we jump on the solar power bandwagon.
Readers – what do you think? Sound off below and don’t forget to share!