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Solar Harvesting—With Panels You Can Actually See Through!

Transparent-solar-panelThere have been a lot of cool developments in the world of solar energy lately, which is great news for our environment to say the least!

We’ve reported on a few interesting ideas about how to go green with solar energy, like the solar roadways that could power your car. Ideas like the solar roads are ingenious because they are non-intrusive, meaning they can harvest energy without taking up land, similar to the typical solar panel.

And now, a team of researchers from Michigan State University has taken the solar panel to a whole new level. According to TechSwarm, the researchers from MSU developed a new kind of solar concentrator that can harvest the power of the sun and convert it to energy. And the most ingenious part: these panels are completely see-through!

They’re called transparent luminescent solar concentrators and they can be used on buildings, cell phones, and any other device that has a clear surface. Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering says the key word here is “transparent.” “No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” states Lunt, “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”

The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team. These organic molecules absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight, like ultraviolet and infrared waves. The light is then guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of solar cells. “Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” says Lunt.

These panels are going to need more work in order to achieve maximum energy-producing efficiency. Right now, they are able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1%, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But keep in mind that the best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7%, so these panels aren’t too far off already.

Another benefit of these new panels is their flexibility. While the technology is still at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or even industrial applications with an affordable cost. “It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” says Lunt. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows, or any kind of mobile device like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately, we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

Innovations like these are great signs of a bright future. If these solar harvesters are attached to every large building, cell phone, home window, and every other transparent surface, who knows how much electrical energy we could produce! They will definitely come in handy in the fight against climate change. Let’s hope that the next big innovation in solar energy will be something just as cool as these solar harvesters.

photo credit: Techswarm 

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