Thomas Edison – Solar Powered Windows

There isn’t always enough room on buildings to locate solar electric [photovoltaic] panels to generate electricity; but what about the windows. Most buildings have plenty of them. Could solar windows help with getting more renewable / clean electricity generated?

Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in New Mexico, reported that a thin film of “quantum dots” on everyday glass could be the key to achieving acceptable efficiencies in window-based photovoltaic systems. Researchers at MIT, the University of Toronto and others also are vigorously pursuing the dream of being able to literally spray a thin film of solar cells onto a suitable surface-including glass.

A concept for a solar window using quantum dots

A concept for a solar window using quantum dots

Quantum dots are nanometer-scale semiconductors [about 1-10 nanometers in size…compared to the thickness of human hair at about 25 nanometers ], that can be fashioned into electricity producing solar cells and complete solar panels.

A thin layer of quantum dots could be spread out onto normal window glass; and if applied properly and protected from the elements have a lifetime of up to 14 years. The processing technique for the quantum dot layers allows for the dots to do what they do well individually and also to work together in the transport of electrical charge to the edges of the film where it can then be collected to provide an electrical current.

Quantum dot cells can now generate about 2-8% of incoming sunlight to electrical energy. Traditional single crystal solar panels seen on roofs today typically exhibit 12-15% conversion efficiencies.

The exciting thing about this technology is quantum dots can be customized to absorb different wavelengths of light [i.e. think colors of the incoming light]-so a combination panel of many different customized dots could harvest energy across the entire solar spectrum of incoming light and hence produce large composite conversion efficiencies-probably double or triple the typical efficiencies of silicon panels today.

Editor’s Deep Dive:

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that. I wish I had more years left.”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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