See-through solar materials that can be applied to windows represent a massive source of untapped energy and could harvest as much power as bigger, bulkier rooftop solar units, according to engineers at Michigan State University (MSU).
The researchers argue that widespread use of such highly transparent solar applications, together with the rooftop units, could nearly meet US 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 analysed 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."
Lunt and colleagues pioneered the development of a transparent luminescent solar concentrator that, when placed on a window, creates solar energy without disrupting the view. The thin, plastic-like material can be used on buildings, car windows, mobile phones or other devices with a clear surface.
The solar-harvesting system uses organic molecules developed by the chemical engineers to absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight. The researchers can ‘tune’ these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near-infrared wavelengths that then convert this energy into electricity.