Solar Panel Technology Makes A Breakthrough

August 25, 2014


A team of researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) has developed a “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” that can be placed on a window, or any clear surface, and generate energy without obscuring the view.

It’s Not All About Design

In an interview with Science Daily, Richard Lunt, an assistant professor from MSU’s College of Engineering, explained that luminescent materials have been used in solar concentrators in the past, but have always been colored. “No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said Lunt.

The Science Daily article explained that the device uses “small organic molecules… to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.”

“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” explained Lunt.

Making transparent solar concentrators is a realistic acknowledgment of the fact that, although major companies may want to incorporate sustainable energy into their products, they won’t do it at the cost of aesthetics. Take Apple Inc., for example, whose success is largely due to its sleek designs.

They’re not likely to slap an opaque solar panel on to the back of an iPhone, but if the panel could be incorporated discreetly enough to the point of being invisible, they just might consider it. The same principle goes for offices and buildings in major urban centers.

Sustainable Energy Is A Major Triumph

Solar concentrators are different from solar panels because they trap light and then direct it outward to the edge of the conductor where the solar cells, which generate energy, are located.

They are more efficient and cost-effective than solar panels, which lose a lot of energy to heat and require expensive devices to direct as much sunlight as possible toward them.

Lunt says there is more work to be done in order to fully optimize the concentrator’s solar conversion efficiency. Currently, the best colored luminescent solar concentrator has an efficiency of seven. Lunt and his team are aiming for five with their device.