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Finally - truly transparent solar panels

Published at: 7 December 2015


A breakthrough in solar technology could soon usher in a world where windows, panes of glass, and even entire buildings could be used to generate solar energy

Though many have ventured, many have failed to create what has been termed the 'holy grail of solar energy' - truly transparent solar panels. Now even though truly transparent photovoltaic cells are virtually impossible because solar panels generate energy by converting absorbed photons into electrons, the quest to discover a solution to them continues nonetheless.

For a material to be fully transparent, light would have to travel uninhibited to the eye which means those photons would have to pass through the material completely (without being absorbed to generate solar power). So, to achieve a truly transparent solar cell, the Michigan State team created a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC), which employs organic salts to absorb wavelengths of light that are already invisible to the human eye. Steering clear of the fundamental challenges of creating a transparent photovoltaic cell allowed the researchers to harness the power of infrared and ultraviolet light.

"When I was growing up, I grew up just outside of Boston, I began to appreciate the amount of glass in tall buildings - where there's often more area in the vertical footprint than there is on the rooftop footprint. One of our thoughts was that if we could turn these areas into solar harvesting areas we could really make a big impact" Professor Richard Lunt from the Michigan State University said in an interview.

Holding up a piece of the photovoltaic cell, which looks entirely indistinguishable from a typical piece of glass, Lunt explains how the cell works. "This is a Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator (TLSC). The way that this works is that it's going to capture the parts of the solar spectrum that you can't see with your eye. So it will capture the solar and infrared part of the spectrum and that glowing, infrared light gets guided to the edge of the glass where we mount very thin strips of solar cells and that's going to convert that energy into electricity" he says. Researchers on the Michigan State team believe their TLSC technology could span from industrial applications to more manageable uses like consumer devices and handheld gadgets. Their main priorities in continuing to develop the technology appear to be power efficiency and maintaining a scalable level of affordability, so that solar power can continue to grow as a major player in the field of renewable energy.


To read more about the TLSC technology http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/first-fully...

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