The First Fully Transparent Solar Power Cell
Michigan State University’s TLSC: The First Fully Transparent Solar Power Cell
The first fully transparent solar power cell has allowed a future that was next to impossible to become a reality. Very soon, every glass plane, ranging from smartphone screens to windows on houses will be transparent solar panels that can capture energy and convert it into electricity. The panels will not hamper natural light as 90% of visible light can still pass through.
There have been efforts towards the creation of transparent solar panels. However, previous versions have been partially transparent and a bit tinted. Michigan’s panel is transparent, making it indistinguishable from a normal glass pane, despite the fact that transparent photovoltaic cells are virtually impossible scientifically. To generate energy, solar panels convert the absorbed photons into electrons. In a transparent material, photons pass through completely without being absorbed.
How did the team at Michigan State University achieve a transparent solar panel? They created a TLSC – a transparent luminescent solar concentrator. A TLSC uses organic salts to absorb light wavelengths which are invisible to the human eye, usually infrared and ultraviolet light. Visible wavelengths pass through the panel unhindered. The captured wavelengths are directed to the panel’s edges, where they are captured by a thin strip of photovoltaic material and transformed into electricity.
The TLSC has an efficiency of around 1%. It is expected to reach 5% with further testing, and 10% by the time production commences. While the efficiency is seemingly low, the fact that the panel will be used on virtually every window in a house or a tall building will significantly multiply the amount of light converted into electricity.
Replacing a smartphone’s or tablet’s screen with a TLSC will result in a few more hours of usage while running on a single charge. Wearable devices are not lagging behind either. The TLSC innovators aim at the use of the panels on various mobile devices without the impairment of aesthetics or function. The panels should be inlaid in the screens. They also aim at increasing power efficiency while making the panels affordable.
Eventually, the need to use batteries in small consumer gadgets and smartphones will be eliminated. Moreover, solar harvesting surfaces will be so discreet that you will barely notice them.
Ubiquitous Energy, the startup that is involved in the production of the TLSC, aims at spreading its wings into fields like the Internet of Things sensors and connected devices. The company aims at using its transparent panels to convert indoor and outdoor ambient light to recharge small capacitors in digital signage, devices used in home building and automation, distributed sensors, and in devices used in medical and environmental monitoring.
Very soon, printed price tags will be replaced by digital signage. Transparent solar panels will cut down on the cost of electricity.
Miles Barr, CEO and co-founder said that customer needs are largely what will determine the timeline from development to mass production. The satisfaction of customer needs requires further innovation and rigorous testing as well as extensive commercial partnerships.
The TLSC is part of Ubiquitous Energy’s ClearView power technology. The innovation won the Display Week Innovation Award in 2015. The company has also won other awards like the Fraunhofer-Techbridge U-Launch Award, the MIT Clean Energy Prize and the MassCEC MTTC Catalyst.
The pilot production of the transparent panels is being done at a Silicon Valley facility in Redwood City, California. Over $8 million dollars have been raised to date.
The company aims at working with very thin films, to the tunes of less than 1/1000th of a millimeter in thickness. This will make the panes as unobtrusive as possible, especially when installed on handheld devices. It will also not interfere with function or aesthetics. They also aim at making the material used non-toxic.
Michigan State University’s transparent solar panel has the potential to make the use of traditional solar panels obsolete. The fact that the technology can be used on any glass panel available means that there will be widespread usage.
Battery life on handheld devices could soon be a concern of the past if the Ubiquitous Energy are able to eliminate battery use. The fact that the technology can be used virtually everywhere, including in digital signage means that a lot of light can be converted to electricity, cutting down on its use.
The TLSC has simply defined the future of renewable energy. The challenge is in making it affordable and readily available.