Transparent Solar Cells Could Be the Future of Energy Harvesting


In the not-so-distant future, windows could be the power sources for office buildings, homes, and even airplanes. Thanks to advancements in the field of transparent solar cells, glass in the future could be an effective solar energy harvesting tool sooner than one might expect.

A transparent solar panel is, by definition, a contradiction. Photovoltaic solar cells absorb sunlight and use it to generate electricity. When something is transparent, it is so because light passes through it instead of being absorbed. Therefore, previous advancements in the technology have developed windows that are opaqued to some degree by the cells.

However, Ubiquitous Energy, an energy startup from MIT, has working prototypes of truly transparent panels, at least for us. Their new technology relies on the fact that humans can only see a fraction of the spectrum of light frequencies. The transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC), only absorbs infrared and ultraviolet light, also known as light outside of the visible spectrum, harvesting energy and allowing light through, without affecting user experience.

Current prototypes sport an efficiency of around 1%. However, the company expects that 10% could be possible once production begins. The possibilities are really quite vast. Glass is everywhere from windows on skyscraper to the phones in our pockets. If the technology could be made as non-intrusive as it is claimed, it could be the key to widespread solar energy use.

Ubiquitous Energy is close to introducing its transparent solar panels to the market. The company is confident that the panels can be applied at all scales, from handphones to skyscraper façades, while remaining affordable. This month of June prototypes for the technology are on display in BMW brand stores worldwide.

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