In the future, transparent solar panels could replace windows. Here’s how
Sound too good to be true? transparent solar panels?
It could usher in a new era of clean energy revolution while protecting farmland and natural habitats in an instant.
Solar energy should unquestionably be one of our strongest allies as the world tries to curb climate change’s worst effects. What’s the viability of transparent solar? Would it really be possible to generate electricity from windows in offices, homes, cars, or even smartphones? Let’s take a look.
What is ‘transparent solar energy’?
The transparent solar technology gathers and uses light energy through windows or glass surfaces, no matter what angle they’re at. In terms of expanding solar’s scope, it could be a game changer.
Engineers have created several transparent solar technologies. Most of them work as transparent solar concentrators, which means they absorb UV and infrared light wavelengths that aren’t visible to the naked eye and convert them into energy.
It’s also called photovoltaic glass, and it comes in different levels of transparency. Michigan State University researchers developed the first transparent solar concentrator in 2014, which converts almost any glass sheet into a PV cell.
We’re one step closer to a sustainable future without fossil fuels by 2020, thanks to scientists in the U.S. and Europe who’ve achieved 100 percent transparency for solar glass.
What are the benefits?
In today’s society, glass is practically everywhere, so see-through solar panels are essential. In the United States, there are an estimated 5 to 7 billion square meters of glass surfaces, from phone screens to skyscrapers. If we could tap into that power, we could generate tons of electricity.
Keeping that in mind, conventional solar panels require a lot of setup space and are expensive to buy. In metropolitan areas, they’re hard to implement because of these constraints. On the other hand, transparent solar panels can be implemented in these areas, paving the way for net-zero energy buildings and helping cities meet climate targets.
The future of high-tech windows
There are already transparent solar technologies popping up all over the world, so that’s not just on paper.
The Copenhagen International School uses 12,000 hued but clear solar panels all over the building, producing 200 MWh of energy a year – that’s more than half its energy use.
Also last year, Michigan State University’s Biomedical and Physical Sciences Building was upgraded with 100-square-foot transparent solar glass panels installed above the building’s entryway. The solar panels will generate enough electricity to power the atrium’s lighting.
It’s not easy, though. As there is a tradeoff between efficiency and transparency, scientists need to make the technology more efficient before it can be scaled up. See-through panels aren’t expected to replace or exceed the standard solar panels we’ve grown accustomed to because they’re less efficient the more transparent they are. Whatever the case may be, the technology might help humanity get to a greener, more sustainable future sooner.
Are you engaged in R&D activities in this area?
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