Solar panels placed on buildings do a great job of generating green energy for the structure, but imagine if every window in the building could absorb solar energy? This is the vision of researchers at the University of Michigan who are working to increase the efficiency of clear solar cells.
The researchers have been successful in boosting the energy capacity of these clear cells. While they are still far from the efficiency of traditional solar panels, the team has increased their absorption capacity to 8.1 percent efficiency and 43.3 percent transparency using an organic, carbon-based design rather than silicon.
Using less toxic materials than traditional solar cells, the team designed a coating that successfully captures infrared light while using an indium tin oxide electrode to make the windows nearly transparent. The only noticeable change from a regular glass window is a slightly green hue.
Modern buildings have windows with a coating to reflect light and heat to reduce cooling costs. Imagine if this coating was replaced with a solar absorption coating to power everything on the interior of the building, from lights to computers to the coffee maker. The potential applications go far beyond buildings, as well. The coating could be used to generate renewable energy from car windows and personal homes, too.
The next steps for the team are to further increase the solar absorption potential of the windows and ensure the coating has a lifespan of at least ten years. Creating effective clear solar panels would mean the ability to integrate solar technology into structures themselves, essentially building green energy solutions into the components of our homes and buildings we already rely on.