A transparent solar concentrator manufactured by Michigan State University researchers can transform sheets of glass into photovoltaic solar cells. The researchers believe that solar panels of this kind can have a wide range of uses from deployment in buildings sporting a plethora of windows to glass displays of modern smartphones.
Solar panels are more along the lines of oxymoron from a scientific perspective. Solar cells generate all the energy as they absorb photons and convert them in electrons. Having said that, a truly transparent material should let all light go through it. That explains why previously acclaimed transparent solar cells only proved to be partially transparent. What is worse is that they would also cast a shadow full of colours.
Mindful of this shortcoming, researchers at Michigan State University employed a different method to absorb sunlight. It uses transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC) rather than attempting to make a transparent photovoltaic cell. TLSC constitutes organic salts capable of absorbing defined and invisible wavelengths of infrared and ultraviolet light. These subsequently light up as an additional invisible wavelength of infrared light. The light is directed to the edge where conventional photovoltaic solar cell transforms it into electricity.
Inspect closely and you will notice two black strips around the edges of the plastic. The efficiency recorded at the moment is 1% but TLSC believe that it is still possible to amp it up to 5%. Non-transparent concentrators often reach a maximum of 7%. These numbers may seem meagre when seen in isolation but consider all windows and displays, and that number builds up quite drastically. Speaking of displays, a replacement with a material such as this is expected to add a few more hours of usage.
The inventors reiterate that technology such as this could have wide-ranging applications from use in commercial areas to consumer devices. The biggest hurdle along the way is the wide-scale adoption of solar power despite the benefit of affordability. If the same solar power can be produced using regular sheets of plastic and glass, that would significantly help this cause the world over.