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Overview: Transparent Solar Panels

Solar energy is considered to be the most abundant source of energy, that’s why there are a lot of technologies being invented to harness the energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. One of these is the photovoltaic cells, it is the topmost solar technologies being used, however, as time passes by, PV manufacturers and supporters faced the challenges of using photovoltaic cells. Some of its challenges are efficiency, cost and lifetime operation. 

With all these challenges in a PV system, researchers focused on finding materials that will overcome these challenges, which happened to be a Silicon material that can offer good efficiency. This silicon material is being used in monocrystalline PV cells, which have at least 6 percent efficiency, however, it is also more expensive than polycrystalline PV cells. Monocrystalline cells are more electrically efficient, while polycrystalline cells have a less perfect molecular structure that can only offer low efficiency. 

However, due to the high cost of silicon, the market began looking for new materials and processes again that can both give enough efficiency and low costs. That’s where researchers ended up with the creation of thin-film PV cells (TFPV). Thin films can reduce the amount of semiconductor material used to manufacturing amorphous solar cells, which can also reduce the cost by more than half as compared to Silicon-based solar cells. Furthermore, the third-generation of the solar cells was also introduced, which includes organic solar cells and solar concentrators.

Despite having different types of solar technologies, challenges are still present. One of the main challenges that most of these solar technologies are facing is the surface area which plays a vital role in the production of solar cells in order to produce enough electricity in the solar panel. Besides, the larger the surface area is, the more sunlight a PV can harness. Thus, the idea of transparent solar cells was introduced to solve this solar technology challenge of effectively utilizing the space.

What are Transparent Solar Panels?

The team of researchers from Michigan State UniversityYimu Zhao, Benjamin Levine and Garrett Meek managed to develop transparent solar panels or also called transparent luminescent solar concentrators (TLSC), that can make a breakthrough to several applications in architecture, as well as in other fields like automobile industry or mobile electronics. Also, it can simply be placed on a window or any other clear surface. These transparent solar panels can harvest solar energy without affecting the transmittance of light. Also, this solar technology uses organic molecules that can absorb wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye, like ultraviolet light and infrared.

According to Richard Lunt–assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU’s College of Engineering, they can tune these organic materials to pick up the near-infrared wavelengths as well as ultraviolet rays. Moreover, the captured light can be transported to the contour of the panel, where light is being converted to electricity with the aid of thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.

This development in solar technology can bring progress and advancement to the buildings’ facades since the vertical footprint is often larger than the rooftop one, particularly for buildings with glass towers. Launching the Transparent Solar Panels in the market can offer more efficient and aesthetically solar technology without reconstructing the architectural design of the buildings. Furthermore, this technology can be easily integrated into old buildings as well.

Currently, the team is working on improving the energy-producing efficiency of transparent solar cells and aiming to reach an efficiency beyond 5 percent. If the developments work, then the applications of this solar technology would be countless. 

Product Launching

Upon recognizing the commercial potential of transparent solar panels, Barr, Bulović, Lunt, and Bart Howe co-founded the Ubiquitous Energy company, the company’s name is reflecting their vision of about photovoltaic solar system. Their team is continuing to develop their work by optimizing their transparent PVs, they are using different semiconductor materials and device configurations to achieve higher efficiencies and better transparencies. Additionally, they are figuring out how to integrate the transparent PVs into consumer products to help in performing several usual functions and most importantly to harvest energy and generate electricity from it.

Barr’s team expects to have its first commercial products for mobile electronic devices to be ready within a few years. Producing these devices to gather energy from ambient light and recharge their own batteries will provide significant benefits and convenience, as well as greater freedom from the power grid. In the process of developing products for mobile devices, the team will make larger energy-harvesting systems so that they can scale up their techniques to the size of windows, a few years later.

Bulović stated that this technology is not going to save the planet by providing all the emissions-free energy it needs but he foresees it as an attractive part of the solution. Aside from that, it can be easily added to other existing deployed things, and it won’t need to devote vast new areas to collecting solar energy.

Costs and Features of Transparent Solar Panels 

The cost of implementing the technology varies with the purpose and application, solar cell efficiency, and other factors such as several sources of potential cost savings over traditional solar systems. In some cases, the processes being applied in fabricating the new transparent photovoltaics are environmentally friendly and not energy-intensive. While the coatings of the transparent PVs are deposited at nearly room temperature, so it can be laid down on essentially any kind of surface. Whereas, in the fabrication of conventional solar systems there’s no need to use glass.

As to PV-coated window glass, Barr stated that installing transparent solar panels sometimes turns into a benefit of “piggybacking on existing infrastructure”. However,  during the new construction or a window-replacement project, the PV coating will be added for very little extra cost. This coating is easy to deposit on one of the inner surfaces of double-paned windows, together with standard low-emittance or solar-control coatings. The photovoltaic layer will be encapsulated between the panes, which can make it well protected from weather, window washing, and other outside threats. Whereas, the glass, framing, and installation costs would be included in the overall cost of the construction project—all the same, whether it includes photovoltaic coating or not. On the other hand, when using a conventional PV system, these costs can make up half to two-thirds of the total installation cost. The distribution of energy generated by the PV-equipped windows can be as simple as placing a power electronics, making wire connection, and an outlet at the side of each window.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Transparent Solar Panels

Advantages of Transparent Solar Panels

  1. Transparent solar panels can produce more power to your commercial business or home, so it’s still a win-win to invest some money for these panels. 
  2. You can certainly save some money by using it to power your propel fans, lights, bulbs and other electronic devices instead of using the power from an electric utility. 
  3. Transparent solar panels are also meant to ward off the complexity of using traditional solar panels. 
  4. There will be no chore involved in establishing portable solar cells both in your office and home.
  5. Once installed, these transparent solar panels can bring you alternative power which has a better amount of efficiency than its traditional solar counterparts. 
  6. Transparent solar panels are also lightweight and very portable, you can carry them from one place to the other without putting much effort. 
  7. By using transparent solar cells, you will not just produce more alternative power, but you will also lessen the use of coal.

Disadvantages of Transparent Solar Panels

  1. Transparent solar panels can only produce less amount of power so you will be needing to buy a large set of solar cells to power up entire your house. 
  2. Transparent solar panels won’t be able to power up the existing electronic accessories in your house. 
  3. If you will buy transparent solar cells you also have to pay for the extra packed-in accessories since solar companies often provide special sets of bulbs and fans to operate with the translucent solar cells. 
  4. Intermittent sunlight can affect the performance of the translucent solar panels and it can’t produce enough power. 
  5. Translucent solar panels are made of glass, and having this needs intense care particularly while handling them. Otherwise, the panels will break.

Transparent Solar Panels: The Wave of the Future

The see-through/transparent solar panels can be easily applied to windows are representing a vast source of untapped energy and these can also manage to harvest more power the same as the bigger, bulkier rooftop solar units according to scientists.

Engineering researchers at Michigan State University cited that the widespread usage of transparent solar applications, along with the rooftop units, could nearly meet the electricity demand of the United States and this will also drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels in the country.

According to Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU,  these highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications and their potential show that by harvesting only invisible light, these devices can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar while providing additional functionality to enhance the efficiency of buildings, automobiles as well as mobile electronics.

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Sources

  • http://energy.mit.edu/news/transparent-solar-cells/
  • https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2015/02/transparent-solar-panels
  • https://www.arch2o.com/transparent-solar-panels-will-turn-windows-into-green-energy-collectors/
  • https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032118304672
  • https://greendiary.com/good-bad-ugly-transparent-solar-panels.html
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  • https://phys.org/news/2017-10-transparent-solar-technology-future.html
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrZHKBOPy6Y
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMhdpWMDp04
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