Transparent See Through Solar Panels

  • Aug 25th 2018

It might sound like science fiction, but it is becoming a reality. The research and development of transparent solar panels are making great strides forward. “Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored.” Semi-transparent solar cells is no longer the focus, now fully transparent solar cells are being developed. The efficiency is pretty far from conventional mono- and poly-crystalline solar panels which can have up to 25% efficiency. The transparent solar panels have an efficiency of about 5% so the main focus of the current research is to bring the efficiency closer to 15% to be able to compete with ordinary solar cells. The flexibility of a fully transparent solar panel will probably outweigh its shortcomings in efficiency.

A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window. It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.

And, according to Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering, the key word is “transparent.”

Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”

The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he said.

The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.

“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt said.

One of the benefits of this new development is its flexibility. While the technology is at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or industrial applications with an affordable cost.

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

Lunt said more work is needed in order to improve its energy-producing efficiency. Currently it is able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1 percent, but noted they aim to reach efficiencies beyond 5 percent when fully optimized. The best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7 percent.

The research was featured on the cover of a recent issue of the journal Advanced Optical Materials.

Other members of the research team include Yimu Zhao, an MSU doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science; Benjamin Levine, assistant professor of chemistry; and Garrett Meek, doctoral student in chemistry.
Source: MSU

Transparent Solar Panels Manufacturers

Currently there are no manufacturers of fully transparent see through solar panels. You might get a lot of hits when you do a Google search, but those results are only click baits. The closest is semi transparent solar panels, that for example Brite Solar provides.

While we wait for see-through solar panels to hit the market we have to settle for the conventional mono- and poly-crystalline solar panels. They might be ugly and block the sun and the view, but hey, it is free electricity and that is always nice. You can read our articles about Solar Chargers for Sale to Consumers here: Best Solar Panel Chargers