In August 2014, researchers from the University of Michigan created the first fully transparent solar concentrator, which can turn any window or glass slide (like the one on your phone) in a photovoltaic solar cell. Unlike previous “transparent” cells, these are truly transparent, as seen in the photos. According to, Richard Lunt, que dirigió la investigación, who led the research, the team is confident it can create panels for all types of configurations.
NowUbiquitous Energy, co-founded by Lunt, is closer to introduce the panels on the market. The process changes the current model for many products based on the miniaturization of components. Instead, the idea is to change the way in which the cell absorbs light, collects only part of the spectrum we can not see, while letting visible light pass through.
Scientifically speaking, a transparent solar panel is a bit contradictory. Solar cells, photovoltaic specifically, create energy by absorbing photons (sunlight) converting them into electrons (electricity). However, if the material is transparent, it means by definition that all light passes through the middle. This is why the formers were not entirely transparent.
In order to overcome this limitation, the researchers used a different technique. Instead of trying to create a transparent photovoltaic cell (which is almost impossible), the used a transparent luminiscent solar concentrator (LSC). It consists of some organic salts that absorb ultraviolet light (non-visible) and radiate infrared light (also non-visible). The infrared light emitted is guided to the edge, where strips of conventional solar cells converted it into energy. If you look closely at the picture, you see black strips at the edges.
The prototype currently has an efficiency of around 1%, but they believe 10% would be possible once production begins. (The efficiency of traditional photovoltaic cells is 30%). Not a great figure alone, but on a large scale – each window of an office building – the numbers grow rapidly.
So far one of the biggest barriers to the adoption of solar energy on a large scale was the intrusive and unsightly nature of the solar panels. If this project goes ahead we will be able to collect the sun’s energy on large buildings or the screen of your smartphone.