Never a day goes past without some new scientific or technological innovation being announced that will change the way we live, work and play.
Today, that change comes in the form of solar energy. And while solar panels are nothing new, the technology behind them is constantly evolving – which means they’re only going to become more commonplace in the years to come helping our renewable energy goals.
One such innovation is the clear transparent solar panel (invisible solar cell).
A revelation in the renewable energy space, these panels have the potential to change the way we think about solar power – and could even make it possible to generate electricity without sacrificing aesthetics.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at transparent solar panels: how they work, their benefits, and some of the challenges they currently face.
- 1 What are Transparent Solar Panels?
- 2 How Do Transparent Solar Panel Windows Work?
- 3 Use Cases
- 4 When Was Solar Energy Invented?
- 5 The Different Types Of Transparent Solar Panels
- 6 Fully Transparent Solar Panels
- 7 Can Solar Panels Charge Through Glass?
- 8 The Future Of Transparent Solar Technology
- 9 FAQs
What are Transparent Solar Panels?
A transparent solar panel is a type of solar cell that is designed to capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity, without being visible to the naked eye.
In other words, it’s a clear solar panel.
A transparent solar panel is an odd concept because solar cells must absorb light (photons) and transform them into electricity (electrons).
When sunlight passes through a traditional solar panel, the photons are converted into heat and electricity. The process of converting sunlight into electricity is called the photovoltaic effect.
While the technology is still in its infancy, transparent solar cells have the potential to be used in a wide range of applications – from windows and skylights in homes and office buildings, to car windshields, mobile phones, and even military aircraft.
How Do Transparent Solar Panel Windows Work?
A transparent solar panel is made up of several thin layers of photovoltaic material. The most common type of photovoltaic material is silicon.
When sunlight hits the solar cell, the photons are absorbed by the photovoltaic material and create an electrical current.
The current is then sent to an inverter where it is converted into AC (alternating current) power that can be used to run appliances and lights in your home or office.
Transparent solar panels for greenhouses
One of the most innovative use cases for transparent solar panels is in agriculture.
For example, imagine if the windows of a greenhouse could be replaced with clear solar panels that would allow sunlight to pass through while also generating electricity.
Not only would this help to power the greenhouse, but it would also reduce the need for artificial lighting – which would save money and energy.
In addition, agricultural applications for transparent solar panels are not just limited to greenhouses. The technology could also be used in livestock barns, where it would provide both ventilation and power.
Transparent solar panels for buildings
Another interesting use case for transparent solar panels is in architecture. Imagine if the windows of a skyscraper could generate electricity while still allowing natural light to pass through.
Or what if the glass façade of a shopping mall was made from clear solar panels?
The possibilities are endless – and the potential benefits are huge. Not only would buildings be able to generate their own power, but they would also be more energy-efficient.
In addition, transparent solar panels could also be used in cars and airplanes. For example, imagine if the windshield of a car could generate electricity while also protecting against the sun’s harmful rays.
Or what if the windows of an airplane could do the same thing? The technology is still in development, but the potential applications are exciting to think about.
Related: What Are Solar Cells Made Up Of?
When Was Solar Energy Invented?
It all began with Edmond Becquerel, a young physicist working in France, who discovered the photovoltaic effect—a method that creates voltage or electric current when exposed to light or radiant energy—in 1839.
At the time, Becquerel was experimenting with an electrolytic cell, made up of two pieces of metal placed in a conducting solution. He found that when he placed the cell in sunlight, it generated an electric current.
However, it wasn’t until 1876 that solar energy was used to power a device. That’s when William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discovered that selenium, a grayish-black metalloid, could be used to create an electrical current when exposed to sunlight.
The Different Types Of Transparent Solar Panels
Partially transparent solar panels
Thin-film photovoltaics (TPVs) is a term used to describe solar panels made from multi-junction thin-film technology.
The process, which involves pasting extremely thin layers of semiconductor material (typically cadmium telluride) on a piece of glass, is known as thin-film photovoltaics (TFPV).
As the name suggests, TFPV solar panels are partially transparent, meaning they allow some light to pass through. However, they are not completely clear – and the amount of light that is able to pass through depends on the type of material used.
Thin-film solar cells have an efficiency of roughly 7-10%. This is the proportion of sunlight that reaches the panel and is subsequently converted into useful energy.
Fully Transparent Solar Panels
Solar panels that are only partially transparent, on the other hand, are not ideal for windows or touchscreens.
Scientists at Michigan State University developed a completely transparent solar panel that looks like real glass, which might meet this demand.
A fully transparent solar panel may not absorb visible light. Researchers at Michigan State University, on the other hand, utilized organic salts that absorbed specific invisible wavelengths of light, such as UV rays.
This energy is then transformed and the panel’s material is moved to its edges, where photovoltaic solar cells convert it into electricity.
Fully transparent solar panels have an efficiency of around 1%, with the potential for more than 5 percent.
Although fully and partially transparent panels have efficiencies of 5% and 7.2 percent, respectively, when compared to conventional solar panels with an average efficiency of 15%, these rates are still low.
Can Solar Panels Charge Through Glass?
Solar panels do charge through glass, but there are limitations. Solar panels need to be able to see the sun in order to generate electricity, and glass blocks some of the sunlight.
The amount of sunlight that is able to pass through depends on the type of glass. For example, tinted or polarized glass will block more sunlight than clear glass.
In addition, solar panels work best when they are in direct sunlight. If there is anything between the sun and the solar panel, such as a tree or a building, the panel will not be able to generate as much electricity.
The Future Of Transparent Solar Technology
The future for transparent solar panels is bright. As the technology continues to develop, we can expect to see more and more applications for these types of panels.
A new era of Net-zero buildings, for example, could be powered by solar panels that double as windows. Touchscreens, car windshields, and even our phones could one day be powered by the sun.
What’s more, as the technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see an increase in the efficiency of transparent solar panels.
Are transparent solar panels expensive?
At the moment, because they are relatively new, they are more expensive than regular solar panels. However, as production increases, the price is expected to decrease.
Can you stack transparent solar panels?
Yes, by stacking transparent solar cells they could potentially reach an efficiency of 10%
Do transparent solar panels work in cloudy weather?
Solar panels need sunlight to generate electricity, so they will not work in cloudy weather. However, they will still work in shaded areas.
Do transparent solar panels work at night?
No, solar panels do not work at night. They need sunlight to generate electricity.