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Transparent Solar Concentrator

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Researchers at Michigan State University created a transparent solar concentrator, which could turn any window or sheet of glass into a photovoltaic solar cell. Unlike other “transparent” solar cells, this one really is transparent. According to Richard Lunt in Extreme Tech, who led the research, the team is confident that the transparent solar panels can be efficiently deployed in a wide range of settings, from “tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader.”

Solar cells, specifically the photovoltaic kind, make energy by absorbing photons (sunlight) and converting them into electrons (electricity). If a material is transparent, however, it means that all of the light passes through the medium to strike the back of your eye. This is why previous transparent solar cells have been only partially transparent — and they usually they cast a colorful shadow, too.

The organic salts absorb UV and infrared, and emit infrared — processes that occur outside of the visible spectrum, so that it appears transparent.

To mitigate this limitation, the Michigan State researchers use a slightly different technique for gathering sunlight; they use a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC). The TLSC consists of organic salts that absorb specific non-visible wavelengths of ultraviolet and infrared light, which then luminesce as another wavelength of infrared light (also non-visible). This emitted infrared light is directed to the edge of the plastic cell, where thin strips of conventional photovoltaic solar cell convert the light into electricity.

Michigan’s TLSC currently has an efficiency of around one percent, but five percent might be possible. On a large scale — every window in a house or office block — the numbers could quickly add up.

 

Transparent Solar Concentrator

Transparent Solar Concentrator from Michigan State University ©2015 Michigan State University