Solar power is rolled out over the world at an ever increasing pace with no sign of stopping. However, we are all familiar with the criticism often aimed towards solar panels, claiming that they take up too much space or simply are too ugly for widespread adaption and implementation. Lately we have encountered both large scale and minor scale ideas of resolving this apparent issue. We have for instance seen the concept of solar roadways and working solar bike lanes, as well as aesthetically pleasing printed solar cells (reported here by Mistbreaker) for powering low energy devices.
As you might recall, we have heard of transparent solar cells in the past. Although being good efforts, where it comes to actual resemblance of common glass these solutions have left quite a lot to wish for. Now, researchers at Michigan State University claim to have created a fully transparent solar solution, which could turn any window or sheet of glass into a generator of green energy. Instead of using photovoltaic solar cells, which are nearly impossible to make transparent, the researchers have created what is called solar concentrators. Research leader Richard Lunt tells Extreme Tech that the fully transparent solar concentrator can be used in numerous different settings from tall buildings with lots of windows to any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality, like a phone or tablet.
Photovoltaic solar cells usually convert energy by absorbing photons and turning them into electrons. This means that solutions utilizing such technology cannot be turned into something truly transparent, since all of the light would be passing though the cell. This is the reason why previous “transparent” solar cells to only partially live up to their name, and why the researchers from Michigan are exercising a quite different technique to achieve similar effects from solar energy as the photovoltaic counterparts. As VICE describes it, the transparent solar concentrator panels are made up of mirroring sheets of organic salts and captures infrared and ultraviolet light.
The energy is harvested through the thin plastic solar cells that stretch around the edges of the frames of the solar concentrator. Since neither the infrared light nor the ultraviolet light is visible to the human eye, the overlay appears transparent and the light that passes through looks normal. This solves the issue of existing transparent solutions throwing colorful shadows across the room. Still, these rainbow distributing solar panels might be preferred when compared to the more traditionally looking black ones, but none of them stands a chance aesthetically when juxtaposed to the transparent solar converters. The lead engineer of the development, Jay Guo, tells VICE:
“Black solar panels have a limited utility, in terms of where you can put them, but if we can make the panels blend in, people will be more willing to deploy them”
However, as a concluding remark it is worth noting that while a standard solar panel can achieve 15 percent efficiency in turning solar energy into electricity. At the moment the transparent overlay only achieves one percent, but the developers claim that with further work five percent should be possible.