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Highly transparent solar cells could be boon for green energy

by Mark Tyson on 24 October 2017, 11:01

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A research team, lead by engineers from Michigan State University (MSU), have been impressed by their findings regarding the potential of highly transparent solar cells. Looking at the whole of the US electricity demand the MSU team reckon combined with rooftop solar the use of transparent solar in windows could nearly meet domestic requirements and drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels.

“Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications,” said Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU. “We analyzed their potential and show that by harvesting only invisible light, these devices can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar while providing additional functionality to enhance the efficiency of buildings, automobiles and mobile electronics.”

MSU scientists consider the thin, plastic-like material of these transparent solar cells to be suitable not just for windows of offices and dwellings but also for car windows, cell phones or other devices with a clear surface. Absorbing invisible wavelengths of light (like infra red and ultra violet rays) to generate energy, the transparent solar cells are about 5 per cent efficient. Opaque cells as used in roofing systems can of course harvest more light, and their efficiency levels are typically about 15 to 18 per cent. The MSU team reckon they can improve the transparent solar cell efficiencies as they are estimated to be only working at approx a third of their potential.

Prof Lunt points out one further reason that transparent solar lags in efficiency ratings right now; this particular solar tech has only been researched for approx five years, compared to five decades for traditional solar cells. Nevertheless, the MSU team have developed and tuned organic molecules that pick up just the ultraviolet and the near-infrared wavelengths before converting this energy into electricity and regard the tech as a significant untapped energy source and a “wave of the future”.



HEXUS Forums :: 8 Comments

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Well, interesting, but …..

- cost?
- replacement or add-on?

If replacement, then personally, having just spent thousands replacing windows throughout my home, I'm NOT ripping it out again.

If add-on, then “highly” transparent sounds to me the way an advertising exec tries to sell “not completely” transparent. If so, the degree of non-transparancy would have to be extremely small, to the point of visually undetectable, before I'd be prepared to stick ‘em all over my expensive new windows.

Finally, and still personally, this comes down to cost, and to whether they can pay back capital outlay promptly enough. As it is, my entire annual electricity bill is modest, and a good chunk of it occurs either at night (not much light about) or via a very small number of high load uses, like the oven for a Sunday roast, or the tumble dryer. Solar cells typically, for the space I have available, can’t provide peak demand loads or overnight, without huge and unviable further expense in battery storage.

I support any and all developments in current and new forms of solar as self-evidently ‘a good thing’, but for me, it MUST be cost-effective and, so far, isn't.
I expect that if it turns IR into electricity, then it will have a cooling effect on the room the window is on.

So considering an office building, where this would be used initially, and assuming that they get it to 10% efficiency, every square metre of window can generate a peak of 100W, and also save on air conditioning within the building.

The Shard has 56,000 square metres of surface area, although only 1/4 is going to get sun all day round (and another 1/4 will get morning sun, and another quarter afternoon sun, but I'll ignore them unless this film is cheap), which is 14,000 square metres, or 1.4MW of power generation at peak.

Compare this to The Shard's integrated gas power plant:

“This combined heat and power (CHP) plant will provide both 1.131MW of electricity and 1.199MW of hot water at high efficiency (85.3% total, 41.4% electrical) to the surrounding area.”
Certainly part of the dislike of traditional renewable energy solutions is that people don't want to look at them. Integrating something like this in such a way that doesn't add anything to an otherwise standard building appearance has I think great potential.
Though as said cost needs to improve a lot to take on fossil fuel alternatives which in terms of value simply don't have competition from renewables in my opinion.
Interesting - I've heard that solar cells tend to suck up everything with a wavelength less than some critical value, so engineering a solar band pass filter is impressive.

sykobee
I expect that if it turns IR into electricity, then it will have a cooling effect on the room the window is on.

So considering an office building, where this would be used initially, and assuming that they get it to 10% efficiency, every square metre of window can generate a peak of 100W, and also save on air conditioning within the building.

The Shard has 56,000 square metres of surface area, although only 1/4 is going to get sun all day round (and another 1/4 will get morning sun, and another quarter afternoon sun, but I'll ignore them unless this film is cheap), which is 14,000 square metres, or 1.4MW of power generation at peak.

Compare this to The Shard's integrated gas power plant:

“This combined heat and power (CHP) plant will provide both 1.131MW of electricity and 1.199MW of hot water at high efficiency (85.3% total, 41.4% electrical) to the surrounding area.”

Bingo. This competes with IR-reflective films, and unlike them can generate profit.
sykobee
The Shard has 56,000 square metres of surface area, although only 1/4 is going to get sun all day round (and another 1/4 will get morning sun, and another quarter afternoon sun, but I'll ignore them unless this film is cheap), which is 14,000 square metres, or 1.4MW of power generation at peak.


It will be roughly a third as solar PV cells don't need direct sunlight to generate an output. And it doesn't have to be either/or, the solar panels could be in addition to the CHP output.