Researchers from Incheon National University, Republic of Korea, and Michigan State University (MSU), USA design novel transparent solar cells
Solar power has shown immense potential as a futuristic, ‘clean’ source of energy. No wonder environmentalists worldwide have been looking for ways to advance the current solar cell technology. Now, scientists have put forth an innovative design for the development of a high-power transparent solar cell. This innovation brings us closer to realizing our goal of a sustainable green future with off-the-grid living.
Today, the imminent climate change crisis demands a shift from conventionally used fossil fuels to efficient sources of green energy. This has led to researchers looking into the concept of “personalized energy,” which would make on-site energy generation possible. For example, solar cells could possibly be integrated into windows, vehicles, cellphone screens, and other everyday products. But for this, it is important for the solar panels to be handy and transparent. To this end, scientists have recently developed “transparent photovoltaic” (TPV) devices — transparent versions of the traditional solar cell. Unlike the conventionally dark, opaque solar cells (which absorb visible light), TPVs make use of the “invisible” light that falls in the ultraviolet (UV) range.
Conventional solar cells can be either “wet type” (solution-based) or “dry type” (made up of metal-oxide semiconductors). Of these, dry-type solar cells have a slight edge over the wet-type ones: they are more reliable, eco-friendly, and cost-effective. Moreover, metal-oxides are well-suited to make use of UV light. Despite all this, however, the potential of metal-oxide TPVs has not been fully explored until now.
Researchers from Incheon National University, Republic of Korea, came up with an innovative design for a metal-oxide-based TPV device, consisting of an ultra-thin layer of silicon (Si). Based on the findings, the research team is optimistic that the real-life applicability of this new TPV design will soon be possible. As for potential applications, there are plenty, as Prof Joondong Kim, who led the study explains, “We hope to extend the use of our TPV design to all kinds of material, right from glass buildings to mobile devices like electric cars, smartphones, and sensors.” Says Not just this, the team is excited to take their design to the next level, by using innovative materials such as 2D semiconductors, nanocrystals of metal-oxides, and sulfide semiconductors. As Prof Kim concludes, “Our research is essential for a sustainable green future — especially to connect the clean energy system with no or minimal carbon footprint.”
Meanwhile, in the US, Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) originally created the first fully transparent solar concentrator in 2014. This clear solar panel could turn virtually any glass sheet or window into a PV cell. By 2020, researchers in the U.S. and Europe have already achieved full transparency for solar glass.
Photovoltaic glass is probably the most cutting-edge new solar panel technology that promises to be a game-changer in expanding the scope of solar. These are transparent solar panels that can literally generate electricity from windows—in offices, homes, car’s sunroof, or even smartphones. The two major types of transparent solar panels include partial and full transparent panels. As these solar power windows can simply replace the traditional glass windows in offices and homes, the technology holds the potential to virtually turn every building in the United States and the world into a solar producer.
Just the way solar roof panels are currently produced using different technologies, solar windows are also being developed using different techniques.
The potential to generate renewable, clean energy from the sun is enormous with transparent solar panels, considering the number of skyscrapers and buildings already in existence or under construction with a massive amount of glass surface.
According to Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU, highly transparent solar cells represent the “wave of the future” for new solar panel technologies.
Lunt says that these clear solar panels have a similar power-generation potential as rooftop solar, along with additional applications to improve the efficiency of buildings, cars and mobile devices. Lunt and his team estimate that the U.S. alone has about 5 to 7 billion square meters of glass surface at present. (Just in the last 10 years, as much as 682 million sq. ft. of office space has been added in the U.S.).
With this much glass surface to cover, transparent solar panel technology has the potential to meet about 40 per cent of the country’s annual energy demand. This potential is nearly the same as that of rooftop solar. When both these technologies are deployed complimentarily, it could help meet nearly 100 per cent of the U.S. electricity needs if we also improve energy storage.
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