See-through solar cells

Solar cells are mostly thought of as covering a roof or a large field of reflective solar panels in the middle of the desert. But recently researchers at Michigan State University developed a solar cell that is transparent, and so could bring amazing possibilities. Being transparent means that these cells could be used in many more places than traditional solar cells – including windows and other glass surfaces like phone screens – without interruption to doing their job of collecting the sun’s energy. transparent-luminescent-solar-concentrator-module-640x424

As the basic principle of solar cells is to absorb the sunlight in order to turn it into electricity hence shouldn’t let it through (which means they shouldn’t be transparent), this novel solar PV cell in fact is a so-called transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC). It includes special organic salts than can transform certain types of non-visible wavelengths of light (UV and infrared) into a different type of non-visible light (also infrared) and this is then beamed to the traditional solar PV cells located on the rim of the solar cell.

The current efficiency is about one per cent (with expectations to increase it to five per cent) but it can be scaled up when applied at building windows, or it could be used to extend the battery life of mobile devices.

Prior similar solutions were mostly coloured, but the new technology allows them to be fully transparent, opening up a range of new surface options.

Michigan State University scientists are not the only ones trying to utilise large glass surfaces.

SolarWindow Technologies took another approach by having developed a see-through liquid coating that can be applied to glass that can harness solar energy. The materials used are organic, offer great performance and it’s claimed to be working well even in shaded areas and in artificial light!

Ubiquitous Energy is another company focusing on the development of transparent solar cells. Their solution technology is a film that lets visible light through but filters and absorbs ultraviolet and near-infrared light, which it turns into electricity. They claim that the efficiency can be more than ten per cent.

With so many different approaches to the same idea, see-through solar cells might be here soon.

Image credit: Michigan State University

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