What is it? Michigan State University scientists have developed a transparent solar panel that can be used as a window.
Why does it matter? Clear solar panels could be used to tap the sun’s power in buildings, cars and even tech devices. There are 5 to 7 billion square meters of glass surfaces in the United States, according to the researchers, who say these clear panels have the potential to provide approximately 40 percent of the country’s current energy demands. Besides making new power-generating window panels, the technology could be also used to retrofit existing windows.
How does it work? The MSU team used organic molecules as their secret sauce to create a thin material similar to plastic that captures the sun’s ultraviolet and near-infrared light. Once collected that energy moves to the edge of the window panel, where solar cells converts it to electrical energy.
“Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications,” said lead engineering researcher Richard Lunt. While the transparent panels are far less efficient than normal solar panels, buildings have a lot more surface area where they could be deployed. “Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible,” Lunt said.
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Widespread use of highly transparent solar applications, together with the conventional roof-top solar systems we see today, could nearly meet U.S. electricity demand, drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels. Today, only about 1.5 percent of electricity demand in the United States and globally is produced by solar power. Moving global energy consumption away from fossil fuels will require innovative and cost-effective renewable energy technologies like this. The work at MSU is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.