Have you seen the movie Skyscraper (yes, the one with The Rock)? Now imagine that tall glass building being a source of energy for the whole structure instead of just using energy! This futuristic vision could soon be a reality and the key lies in the creation of transparent solar cells which, when placed between the panes of double-glazed windows, harvest energy from the sun – this is the solar panel version of Harry’s invisible cloak if you will. Also, can you imagine phone screens made with this? We would eliminate portable charging!
Researchers have set a new efficiency record for color-neutral, transparent solar cells by achieving 8.1% efficiency and 43.3% transparency with an organic, or carbon-based design rather than conventional silicon. Glass on buildings have a coating to reflect and absorb some of the light for reducing brightness/heat inside and rather than discarding that energy away, transparent solar panels could harness it. For context, the previous transparent solar cells have light utilization efficiencies of approximately 2-3% which makes 8.1% a big leap. “Windows, which are on the face of every building, is an ideal location for organic solar cells because they offer something silicon can’t, which is a combination of very high efficiency and very high visible transparency,” explains Stephen Forrest, the Peter A. Franken distinguished university Professor of engineering and Paul G. Goebel Professor of engineering.
To further push boundaries, UbiQD, an advanced materials company from New Mexico is continuing its development of transparent solar panels that are indistinguishable from regular glass using Quantum Dots – microscopic particles that have the ability to manipulate light to harness energy. “These Quantum Dots are super ‘nano’ particles of material and it would take roughly 100,000 of them to span your fingernail. These materials are especially advantageous due to having remarkably high efficiency and size-tunable photoluminescence (PL, light emission) over a wide range of colors,” explains the team at UbiQD. This technology can be a game-changer to reduce massive loads from large electricity grids and maybe even be integral in the planning of future cities that will run on solar energy!