There’s a lot of the glass covering buildings in the US. Enough, that if their glass was replaced or augmented with see-through solar panels, that those buildings could provide roughly 40 percent of the country’s power needs.
That’s according to a new study from Michigan State University (MSU) published in Nature Energy. It further argues that between transparent solar and rooftop solar, it could provide most of the US’s energy needs.
Transparent photovoltiacs are a group solar power devices that can produce electricity while remaining transparent or translucent to the human eye. As technologies progress they will include multiple technologies from being integrated into glass panes, sprayed on as a finish or applied as a sticker, like a window tint.
"Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications," said Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU. "We analyzed their potential and 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 and mobile electronics."
Transparent solar, including solar devices developed at MSU and those being developed at Princeton, are reaching efficiency levels above 5 percent. That’s much lower than solar panels, which are currently reaching levels as high as 20 percent in commercial production. The study, “Transparent solar technology represents 'wave of the future’,” observed that the efficiency of transparent solar power will not surpass that of solar panels but will come closer to it. However, there is between 5 and 7 billion square meters of glass installed in the US—a huge potential market.
"Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible,” Lunt contended.
The report contended that rooftop solar power could provide another 40 percent of the US’s energy needs. "The complimentary deployment of both technologies could get us close to 100 percent of our demand if we also improve energy storage," Lunt said.
The transparent solar devices built by Lunt are tunable, meaning they’re designed to absorb only certain spectra of light, like near-infrared and ultraviolet light, as such they appear transparent to the naked eye. While they’ll be less efficient than traditional solar cells and panels, the area they could cover will likely help them become part of the move to renewables.Tweet