Energy Efficiency

26 Nov 2020

Scientists Make Breakthrough in Solar Window Technology with See-Through Panels

26 Nov 2020  by Madeleine Cuff   

Builders could one day be installing windows in homes and offices that double up as see-through solar panels, after scientists in America this week announced a breakthrough in cell technology.

Most building windows are already partially tinted to control internal temperature (Photo: Thomas Lohnes/Getty)

The team at the University of Michigan have designed a colour-neutral, transparent solar cell that boasts an efficiency of 8.1 per cent, which they claim is a new record. A traditional solar panel is about 15-20 per cent efficient at converting solar energy into electricity but is almost completely opaque.

Buildings with glass facades are usually have a special coating to help reflect and absorb sunlight, to stop buildings getting too hot. Scientists are aiming to design panels that can snatch that excess energy away and turn it into electricity to power the building, while still maintaining office workers’ views.

The team used a carbon–based design rather than conventional silicon. It produces panels with a slight greenish tint like the colour of sunglasses, but the researchers said the new panels were as transparent as windows already installed in some office blocks.

“Windows, which are on the face of every building, are an ideal location for organic solar cells because they offer something silicon can’t, which is a combination of very high efficiency and very high visible transparency,” explained lead author Stephen Forrest.

The team made two versions of the new device. The first colour-neutral version – treated with an indium tin oxide electrode coating – prioritizes transparency and has 8.1% efficiency. A second version – treated with a silver electrode coating – which has an efficiency of 10.8% but gives the windows a stronger green tint. Both versions are better at converting light into electricity than their predecessors, the team insisted.

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