Solar Energy You Can See Through

August 22, 2014

For all its advantages, solar power has one obvious drawback: the space that the arrays take up. Even though solar panels have gotten smaller and more efficient, the space they occupy cannot be used for other purposes. Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a solution to this issue: a luminescent solar concentrator that can be placed over a window, or anything with a clear surface, that produces solar power while remaining transparent. Previous generations of luminescent solar concentrators, while efficient, are still colored and thus can affect the aesthetic of a room. The new design, however, is as transparent as glass.

A clear benefit to this development is its scalability, from smartphone screens to skyscrapers with a multitude of windows, solar concentrators that are truly transparent could be used for a variety of applications and could eliminate one of the common objections to a solar power switch: "Where will we put the panels?" 

The researchers say the solar concentrator will still need more development to produce enough energy to be commercially viable, as its current efficiency is around 1%. They are optimistic, however, that when fully optimized the concentrator will reach similar efficiencies to the best colored luminescent solar concentrators on the market today, which operate around 5-7% efficiency.