The engineering team that led the project have argued that the widespread use of such highly transparent solar applications, alongside rooftop units, could generate enough energy to meet total U.S. electricity demand, and drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels.
“Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications,” said Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU. “We analyzed their potential and show that by harvesting only invisible light, these devices can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar, while providing additional functionality to enhance the efficiency of buildings, automobiles and mobile electronics.”
The technology utilizes organic molecules to absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight. The researchers can adjust these materials to up ultraviolet and near infrared wavelengths which are processed into electricity.
The scientists have estimated that up to 7 billion square meters of glass surface in the U.S. could be covered by the material, with the potential of supplying 40% of energy demand in the U.S.
“The complimentary deployment of both technologies, could get us close to 100 percent of our demand if we also improve energy storage,” Said Lunt.
Nevertheless, Lunt reported to Nature Energy that while see-through solar technologies will never be more efficient at converting solar energy to electricity than their opaque counterparts, they can get close and offer the potential to be applied to a lot more additional surface area. Right now, transparent solar technologies are only at about a third of their realistic overall potential.
“That is what we are working towards,” he said. “Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.”
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