In August, 2104, Michigan State University announced progress on development of transparent solar energy cells that could be applied to windows or any sheet of glass. Today, much is going right at Michigan State University. The undefeated football team is in the Top Ten. The best basketball coach of a generation, Tom Izzo, is readying his team for an NCAA title run. And, the stellar alternative energy research program has made great progress with transparent solar cells.
These new cells have vast potential on a residential and commercial scale. Imagine the energy every window in a skyscraper could produce. Meanwhile, the view from inside the building would not be deterred. Michigan State just may have a grip on a transparent and effective means to make every home or office more energy efficient.
The new solar harvesting system is based upon a new solar concentrator that when placed over a window converts the sun’s rays to solar energy. But, unlike earlier attempts at this technology, the Michigan State transparent solar cells do not block the view or cast colorful shadows inside the building. The efficiency of these new solar cells that convert rays to solar energy are soon to be tested with the use of various solar monitoring systems while they are actually being used in real-world applications, meaning the data harvested will be accurate for the locations, times and efficiency of each system deployed.
Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU’s College of Engineering, says the key word is transparent. “No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” adds Lunt.
Solar Harvesting System
The transparent solar cells form an effective solar harvesting system that relies on small, organic molecules to absorb specific, nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight. The system was developed by a team led by Lunt who co-founded a new company, Ubiquitous Energy, as an MIT startup in 2013.
The new cells use organic molecules to collect the ultraviolet and “near infrared wavelengths” that glow at another infrared wavelength. When the infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic, it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.
Blunt explains the net effect on the transparency of the windows this way; “Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye.”
The benefits of the transparent solar cells for windows are underscored by the non-obtrusive, non-invasive application which provides a clear view to the outside.
The product’s amazing flexibility would permit the cells to be deployed to any sized window at a residence, commercial or industrial building. The cells open “a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way. It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there,” Lunt explained.
In August, the transparent solar cells were able to produce a solar conversion efficiency rating of 1 percent. At that time, the goal was to achieve 5 percent efficiency. In August, the most effective colored LSC had a 7 percent efficiency rate.
In April, 2015, Ubiquitous Energy said it was close to bringing the transparent solar cells for windows or sheets of glass to market. The company has improved the ability of the transparent cells to change the way the cells absorb light.
The cells work by selectively harvesting that part of the solar spectrum that is not seen by the eye but which can allow light to pass through. It is this process and research that separates the Ubiquitous Energy – Michigan State University cells from earlier attempts to perfect the technology.
In earlier versions, the “transparent” solar cells were only partially transparent. In fact, previous attempts at the technology actually cast colorful shadows.
The new Michigan State University transparent cells rely on a different technique to gather sunlight. The new cells do not use the traditional approach to photovoltaic cells.
Instead, the new cells use a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC) that uses organic salts to absorb non-visible wavelengths that glow as a different type infrared light that guides the light to the edge where the thin strips of conventional photovoltaic solar cells convert the light into solar energy.
Lunt and his team hope to increase the efficiency from the 1 percent in August, 2014, to 10 percent by the time the product comes to market.
The success of the transparent solar cells on an individual basis will not be huge. But, when every window in the building has the same or greater yield, the cumulative conversion efficiency and effectiveness is tremendous.
“Ultimately, we want to make soar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there,” said Lunt. The biggest obstacle to “transparent cells” has been the intrusive, unattractive nature of the panels over clear windows.
With Michigan State’s new transparent solar cells, solar energy panels are not obtrusive. Instead, they compose an alternative energy source with broad yields.
Isn’t it time your home, office building or industrial building deployed transparent solar cells to produce energy that does not affect the view?
Go solar today!!!