Introducing Transparent Solar Panels
The cost of solar panels dropped 80% between 2008 and 2015 and solar technology is becoming an increasingly common sight both in business and residential contexts. Panels are now an affordable commodity for the middle classes and a team of researchers at Michigan State University have aimed to take advantage of that new market. They’ve develop a flexible, clear plastic that can harvest solar energy without impeding view.
The Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator (TLSC) is designed for use as part of any clear surface, including on buildings and mobile phones.
Previous attempts at layering solar cells over plastic materials have been ineffective, plagued by low energy yields and challenges with materials that were coloured, rather than transparent. MSU’s scientists overcame these obstacles after discovering a class of organic salts that directly target specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight. The solar harvesting system developed by the team absorb specific non-visible wavelengths of sunlight. These materials can then be tuned to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared. The PV solar cells at the edge of the plastic then convert the light into electricity.
The challenge now for MSU’s researchers, is maximising the energy-producing efficiency of the solar concentrator. Current energy conversion hovers at just 1% and TLSC will need to achieve 5% before going to market. The team are confident of reaching a 10% conversion rate in the foreseeable future.
TLSC offers the potential to change any glass object — from the Louvre’s glass pyramid or your own mobile phone into a conductor of electricity. It provides designers and architects with a new opportunity and could play a role in transitioning to a larger scale and wider adoption of solar power.