These Transparent Solar Panels Can Turn Your Windows Into Eco-Friendly Energy Collectors

Green energy is the way of the future and these transparent solar panels are on their way to making it easier to obtain energy from green sources.

These see-through solar panels were created by researchers at Michigan State University.

Not only could they be used as windows someday, but they could have many other practical uses in architectural and even automotive design.

Photo by G.L. Kohuth

Researchers have been hard at work trying to create this for years, but issues with low efficiency and poor-quality materials kept popping up.

At long last, this is the first time that they’ve come up with a satisfying product that checks off all the boxes.

Pictured below, researcher Yimu Zhao holds up a transparent luminescent solar concentrator module.

Photography by: Yimu Zhao

The main goal was to make the solar panels see-through, so that they offer a clear surface like a window. As a result, the “windows” can harvest solar energy without blocking any light from coming in.

The genius minds behind this invention relied on advanced technology to make it possible, including organic molecules that absorb light wavelengths that the human eye cannot see, like infrared and ultraviolet light.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared. The captured light is transported to the contour of the panel, where it is converted to electricity with the help of thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells,” according to Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU’s College of Engineering, Richard Lunt.

Imagine a glass skyscraper – there is SO much room to add solar panels vertically, far more space than a rooftop alone could offer. As a result, we could develop advanced efficient green technology without altering or interfering with the façade of a building.

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Plus, solar panel windows could be added to older and pre-existing buildings just as easily as adding new windows.

“If the cells can be made long-lasting, they could be integrated into windows relatively cheaply, as much of the cost of conventional photovoltaics is not from the solar cell itself, but the materials it is mounted on, like aluminum and glass,” explained MSU’s Dr. Lunt to the New York Times.

“Coating existing structures with solar cells would eliminate some of this material cost.”

Researchers are currently uncovering if the transparent cells are commercially feasible, and if they are, “the power they generate could significantly offset the energy use of large buildings,” explained Dr. Lunt.

Michigan State University, Photography: G.L. Kohuth

The photo above, provided by Michigan State University, shows a transparent luminescent solar concentrator waveguide with colored traditional luminescent solar concentrators in the background.

Dr. Lunt explains that the power gained through solar panel windows might not be enough to power an entire building, but “we are talking about a significant amount of energy, enough for thinks like lighting and powering everyday electronics.”

Dr. Lunt grew up in Boston where at an early age he developed an appreciation and awe for the amount of space tall glass buildings provide.

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Traditionally, we see black solar panels on the tops of buildings, but there is only so much room on any rooftop. There is far more space to work with if solar panels could be made to fit vertically instead of on top of the roof.

This is what started the thought process behind turning windows into solar panels.

Additional research is ongoing thanks to funding from the Center for Excitonics, which is an Energy Frontier Research Center that is financed through the US Department of Energy.

As of now, the research team behind solar panel windows is striving to improve energy production of the panels. It is currently at 1%, and the goal is to get it past 5%.

A big shout out to the researchers on the team who are working hard every day in efforts of producing cleaner and greener energy– thank you Yimu Zhao, Garrett Meek, and Benjamin Levine.