When you think of solar panels, the big inclined black boxes come into mind. Not only do they look terrible, but they occupy and a lot of space and makes us think again about our decisions to power our house through solar energy. This is a problem that has been identified by scientists a long time back and they have been working on it ever since. What they planned on developing was a kind of solar panel that can be easily fitted in a building, and then, it can be put in a spot where it can collect a lot of solar power. Researchers from Michigan State University has been working on such a product and they have finally hit the jackpot. They have developed transparent solar panels.
Transparent solar panels seemed like an impossibility before. It defied the basic laws of physics. For a solar panel to work, it needs to collect light, but if a thing a transparent, then by principle, the light will pass through it completely. So, that’s why previous attempts to harness solar energy failed. Firstly, they were not completely transparent, and then, they gave off coloured shadows that just ruined it all. So, the researchers developed a new technique to absorbed the photons from the sunlight. Previously, they were concerned with building a transparent photovoltaic cell but now they concentrated on making the transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC). This uses organic salts have the capability to absorb non-visible wavelengths like infrared and ultraviolet and then make them glow at another wavelength that is infra-red. Now, this infra-red wavelength is then glided across the glass to the edge which contains thin strips of photovoltaic solar cell which then uses the light and converts it to electricity, as per the research.
According to Richard Lunt, who has led the research, due to the presence of TLSC, it is now possible to develop transparent glass panels which could be used for tall skyscrapers with glass windows. How different will they look after the product has been used? It won’t look any different. It will look just as it has looked before, but now, half of the appliances inside the building can run by solar power. The design has been specifically made in such a way so that it does not affect the architecture of any building. Building designers do not have to recreate and re-plan everything. Neither does this glass produce the colourful shadows that previous variants of transparent solar panels used. And the best part about this product is that it has been made in such a way that it could be installed in old, existing buildings too. So you do not require to tear down buildings for this purpose.
When the prototype of this product was used, its efficiency was recorded to about 1%. According to the researchers, it is possible to get it up to 10%. The previous Non-transparent luminescent concentrators could reach up to 7%. Now, while these numbers do not seem huge, imagine how much power can be generated if we can use the same product on a tall building with multiple glass windows. Plus, on a small scale, you can put it on a tablet or a smartphone. Now, it will generate enough energy to keep your phone charged forever. But it can produce enough to keep it running for a few more minutes or an hour after a single battery charge.
One of the biggest challenges that the researchers are dealing with is the durability of the product. If that is tackled, then it is possible to bring this product into the commercial market. Lunt believes that it could be a commercial success. This is because of a simple reason: conventional photovoltaics are made of glass and aluminium, and are large, which makes it expensive. This will lower the cost and can be more effectively installed too.
While this product may not generate the significant power necessary to keep all the appliances of a whole building running, it can definitely keep the less-demanding appliances like fans and light running. This is quite enough to conserve the quite an amount of energy. Lunt believes that if such a product could be a success, then it is possible for us to build a solar city too. That does not seem like a distant dream. For now, this technology can be used in the automobile industry and mobile electronics. All it needs is to be scaled so that it can cover more ground and generate more energy so that we can finally get rid of the exploitation of fossil fuels.