The issue of finding and implementing alternative energy sources is one of the main issues of modern humanity, which is why we are trying to come up with different versions that could be implemented in various weather conditions so that not only the windiest or sunniest countries could reduce their use of oil and coal.
So what if we told you that there is a technology that could ease our lives in this respect? There is currently an engineering process going on that could remove the need for big amounts of space to be used in order for solar panels to be implemented, which is especially important for the buildings and homes in urban areas.
By reading this article you will be able to grasp the understanding of how transparent solar panels work, what types exist at the moment, and how you could implement them into your own life.
101 on Transparent Solar Panels
We all know about simple solar panels, but what is so different about transparent ones? Well, the way of working is completely different for sure.
Transparent solar panels work with the help of photovoltaic glass that can be implemented on almost anything: you can place it on your phone, your window blinds, windows themselves, and so on. This basically means that we no longer need large amounts of unused space to be able to generate electricity from solar panels as the energy now can be created from almost anything glass-like.
The very first transparent solar panel concentrator was created in 2014 at Michigan State University and as of 2020, scientists have achieved fully transparent solar panels for our future use!
As you can imagine, such transparent solar panels could easily replace our usual windows or any other glass that is used on our mobile devices, so that such materials could be transformed into transparent solar panels and thus, create energy whenever we need it!
Magic or Reality: how is it possible?
Our usual understanding of a solar panel lies in the possibility of its materials absorbing sunlight and transforming it into power, but this logic breaks when we talk about transparent solar panels, as they are not placed somewhere on your roof, but could be implemented on your window, which would mean that the light would pass through it and never transform into energy and electricity.
As you can see, the working process should be quite different for transparent solar panels: what the solar cells do is select a portion of the solar spectrum that is invisible to the human eye and transform it into energy: this way, you still get the visible light passing through your solar window while obtaining some electricity as well.
So instead of trying to develop a transparent photovoltaic glass, which is something out of the range of human possibilities, scientists created the transparent luminescent solar concentrator that still does the job that it is supposed to do, but in a more efficient way!
What is more, mass production of such solar panels would allow for the price of this solar product to decrease, so that it would be affordable to buy a solar window for the majority of Earth’s population!
What Minds Stand Behind This Development?
Aside from researchers from Michigan State University, there are also a few manufacturers and other research groups that also help to promote transparent solar cells and their technology offers throughout the world.
- For example, there is a company called Ubiquitous Technology that is working together with Nippon Sheet Glass Co. and is currently trying to find a way to implement the technology of transparent solar cells into the process of making our usual windows.
- In addition, their transparent solar technology will only increase the efficiency of the power created as it will block infrared solar heat from the surface of your building. As for now, Ubiquitous Technology researchers have announced that their creation is already capable of converting electricity with an efficiency rate of 9.8 percent!
- Another name that is quite important in the sphere of creating transparent solar windows with the help of solar cell technology is a company called Physee: these guys have already created their own transparent solar windows called PowerWindow, and as of this moment, this is the only product that has already been implemented in real life for a Dutch bank building.
Here is how their product works: once installed, small transparent panels are used among the edges of traditional windows so that the power would be transmitted to them and then to the buildings themselves. These transparent panels are still not capable of providing us with ubiquitous energy, but the company is confident that this will change quite soon!
Explaining Different Kinds of Transparent Panels
There are two main types of transparent solar panels that you could find at the moment: fully and partially transparent solar panels, and it is quite clear from their names what is the distinction between them.
Here is the description of fully and partially transparent solar panels:
- A semi-transparent solar panel was created by a German manufacturer that is capable of absorbing approximately 60 percent of the sunlight and due to that, the energy efficiency of a partially transparent solar panel is lower than that of conventional solar panels.
But there are ways that could help you increase the efficiency of this new method: for example, if your office buildings have windows facing the south, it might be very convenient for you to install partially transparent panels there, as they could help you to reduce the enormous amount of sunlight that you receive and yet provide you with additional energy! In this case, no tinted glass would be needed for the creation of thermal insulation.
- Fully transparent panels were already discussed earlier: as you know, they were created by the researchers of Michigan State University and they are capable of producing 10% of the overall energy used on our planet.
Again, please remember that including an alternative source of energy in our life does not necessarily mean that it will replace traditional ones at once: for now, it is great that we can even create such a substitute. What is more, the lower efficiency of this solar panel can be increased together with its size, so that the bigger the glass of the solar window, the bigger the amount of energy that it could create. Imagine a huge building that is completely covered by such solar cells and how much energy it could create!
As for the ways that you can use to implement transparent solar cells right now, you might consider placing transparent window blinds, i.e the easiest way to produce energy with the help of an efficient panel and its transparent solar cells.
This product combines in itself not only the main feature of window blinds, i.e protection from sunlight, but access to additional electricity as well. Thanks to a startup SolarGaps, we now can reduce our energy costs up to 70 percent: the company claims that once installed, for every 10 square feet of your solar window space you can create approximately 100 watts of power, an amount that is capable of providing power for three laptops!
The control of these solar blinds and thus, transparent solar cells, can be done via your phone: there is an app for the blinds that allows you to change the angle of a product, as well as inform you about the amount of power already produced by the construction installed on your building.
What is more, there is even an option that enables automatic shifts of your solar blinds in accordance with the current position of the sun. All in all, these are the best solar panels for now!
The potential that the technology of transparent panels has is quite promising, as we have quite a lot of the brightest minds working together to find a solution for obtaining ubiquitous energy from solar windows. As the associate professor of MSU Richard Lunt once said, this technology opened a new wave of the future for us.
The USA alone has about 5 to 7 billion square meters of glass surface on its buildings that could be covered with transparent solar cell technology or even renewed with solar windows. Only 700 million square feet were added in the last 10 years, so imagine what amount awaits us in the future!
If we cover all of these windows with solar cell technology, we could gain 40 percent of our annual energy production, which is approximately the same as with the traditional rooftop panels. And thus, these two methods combined could give us complete coverage of our power needs and produce the same amount of energy for any building, especially if commercial applications will also be made!
Frequently Asked Questions — FAQ
What are Solar Windows?
This is a new environmentally-friendly technology that is either placed on your windows or replaced completely in order to provide you with an additional energy source from the sun. When replaced, solar windows will look just like your regular ones, but they will also provide your building with electricity.
Visible sunlight will still be received by you, as these windows use only invisible light for the creation of energy. This project is quite promising and could even replace the glass of our phone screens!
Why are Solar Panels Covered in Glass?
An additional layer of glass on top of your transparent solar panel simply protects your alternative source of energy from the outside factors such as rain and dirt. With this innovative design of placing the solar glass on top, you are prolonging the service life of your panel, so that it could generate power for a longer period of time.
How to Make Solar Glass?
We do not think that solar glass could be made in home conditions, which is why you will most probably need to buy it from some company that does them.
How Does Photovoltaic Glass Work?
To be able to convert enough sunlight into power, photovoltaic glass is needed, as it has semiconductor properties that help to catch the light at first and then help to transform it into power. You can find more information about this glass in the article above.
Are Solar Panels Made of Glass?
The solar panel itself is made out of silicon that is creating semiconductor properties for our solar panel. Glass is used to cover the main part of our panel from both sides so that it would be more stable and have enough security from the outer elements.
Will a Solar Panel Charge Through a Window?
Yes, it will charge, but not with the same efficiency level. This happens because you are creating an additional boundary between your panel and sunlight, which is usually not present if you place it in the open space.
When putting your panel behind a window, do not be surprised if its efficiency lowers up to 50 percent.
What does the panels’ material consist of?
The material of such solar panels consists of organic salts that take in the invisible sunlight like ultraviolet light and then start to glow, still invisibly to the human eye. This glow is transformed to the edges of a transparent panel where the magic happens and the sunlight transforms into electricity.
It was estimated that the mass production of fully transparent solar panels will be able to provide us with a 10% replacement of the traditional energy sources.
This might not seem serious, however, if you just imagine what these 10 percents mean not on the local level, but on the global scale, you would be able to understand that this is actually a huge change in our modern understanding of alternative energy sources and in the way that we could help our planet to cope with the mistakes that were made in the environment.