Solar panels have a seat at the table in the transition to more sustainable energy sources. The renewable energy industry is hard at work creating solar solutions that are more accessible, affordable and practical for the average household.
Solar panel windows might soon fit the part. These windows look and function like any other but use transparent solar technology to generate electricity.
Transparent solar panels gather light energy as it hits the glass surface, regardless of the incoming angle. Most solar windows absorb specific ultraviolet and infrared light wavelengths and convert them into usable power.
University of Michigan researchers began working on this technology in 2014. They developed a fully transparent solar concentrator capable of converting any glass into a photovoltaic cell, publishing the results of their work so far in the scientific journal Joule in July 2022.
The challenge rests in balancing the efficiency of the solar converter with the transparency of the window glass. Ideally, the glass would be 100% transparent while maximizing the energy capture.
According to Inside Climate News, the Michigan team currently has a window that converts 7% of the incoming solar radiation to electricity. It uses solar cells made with a dye-like material. The cells are connected to lines of metal within the window that are invisible to the naked eye.
With this technology, they aim to reach 10% efficiency—a bit less than the 15% starting point of most traditional silicon-based systems, but a game-changer nonetheless.
The window application is what matters most. Window solar panels could free up real estate on building rooftops and farm fields, or work in conjunction with existing solar panels to further reduce reliance on a fossil fuel-powered grid.
Michigan State University recently installed transparent solar glass panels in their Biomedical and Physical Sciences Building. The energy produced will power lighting inside the facility.
The future of transparent solar panels could mean meter-scale, electricity-producing windows for residential applications, with the resulting potential for installations and service and maintenance by electrical contractors. There are certainly still obstacles to overcome, such as increasing efficiency and reducing costs, but the outlook is bright for this see-through technology.