Getting clean energy at an affordable price is a goal of many people, and wind and solar can go a long way towards achieving that goal.
Part of the problem with solar power, however, is that the solar cells usually need either a rooftop or open land to gather the light necessary to convert it to electricity. That works better in some areas than others, and limits the ability of solar cells to gather light from all of the areas that are subject to sunlight during the course of the day.
One possible solution is the recent development of transparent solar cells. These cells work just like the more traditional types of solar cells – light hits them, and the light is converted to electricity. The transparent cells, however, offer the ability to add solar collectors to a place where one normally would not want to see a solar cell – windows.
Since most people want light to pass through their windows, putting a regular solar cell there would block light and the view. On the other hand, a transparent solar cell would allow light to pass and allow people on the inside of the building to see out through the windows as they normally would.
This technology was developed by researchers at Michigan State University, and so far, the tests seem promising. The cells make use of organic molecules that can absorb certain wavelengths of light that are ordinarily invisible to the human eye, such as ultraviolet light. With a bit of fine-tuning, these materials can be adjusted to collect wavelengths of light that can be easily converted into electricity.
There is an estimated 5 to 7 billion square feet of glass surface in the United States, and converting even a fraction of that surface area to solar collectors would be beneficial and help the country become less dependent on fossil fuels for energy needs.
At the moment, the biggest drawback to the transparent solar cells is efficiency. Standard opaque solar cells aren’t super efficient; they turn only about 15-18 percent of the light they receive into energy. The transparent cells, at present, are only about 5% efficient, making them less useful. On the other hand, if you can convert surface area that is currently considered not useful for solar panels, such as windows into solar panels, you’re turning a losing situation into a winning one.
The cells aren’t just for windows, either. They can theoretically be applied to any smooth surface, such as the top of a car, or the car’s windows, or even on the screen of a cell phone.
Unfortunately, these solar cells are currently only in the development and testing stage, and there’s no word yet on when they might be available for commercial use. This technology is still relatively new and hasn’t had the time devoted to it that traditional solar cells have. By the time they’re available for commercial use, they’ll likely be more efficient than they are now. Whether the technology can be produced in quantity at a cost-effective price remains to be seen.