Or very nearly so, according to Richard Lunt at Michigan State University. With 5 – 7 billion square meters of glass surface, researchers estimate that “transparent solar technologies have the potential of supplying some 40 percent of energy demand in the U.S.” and a similar potential for rooftop solar energy production. Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU, and one of the pioneers of the “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” technology believes:
“The complimentary deployment of both technologies could get us close to 100 percent of our demand if we also improve energy storage.”
“Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications. 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.”
I have been watching this technology since at least 2013 with the announcement of a public-private partnership between a company called New Energy Technologies, Inc. and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But as Lunt noted in 2014, these solar glass & coatings were not clear.
“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said Lunt “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”
At the time, the solar conversion efficiency of Lunt’s solar glass was not quite 1% (compared to approximately 7% for the tinted luminescent solar concentrators). Now, however, conversion efficiencies for the transparent luminescent solar concentrator is over 5%.
Although transparent solar technologies will never be more efficient at converting solar energy to electricity than their opaque counterparts, they can get close and offer the potential to be applied to a lot more additional surface area, he said.
Right now, transparent solar technologies are only at about a third of their realistic overall potential, Lunt added.
“That is what we are working towards,” he said. “Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.”
“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said in 2014. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”
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