This could change the way we see Solar power. This could change the way we use windows.
Looks like the world of tomorrow could be a way greener place, and it may not be that far off. We have seen a massive push for renewable, environmentally responsible production and construction. Two years ago a crowd-funding project for Solar Roadways took the alternative energy world by storm. It was the start of a push for a greener, more integrated world. Of course, such a monumental project was destined to expensive and time consuming. Integration of solar roadways across even a small portion of the country would be a massive endeavor. It’s evident we need to start smaller, and smarter.
Enter Solar Windows. Solar cells are expanding and they’re doing so to help the environment around us. Solar cells aren’t just big blue panels any more. Professor Richard Lunt, of Michigan State University, has developed transparent solar cells, which could allow the windows in buildings to be turned into a solar harvesting surface. These transparent solar concentrators get inserted between the double pane glass windows during the manufacturing process, but older buildings can also be retrofitted by placing a laminate version of the cell on existing windows.
These concentrators could turn any type of glass including your smartphone screen into a photo-voltaic solar cell. Solar cells work by guiding the light it receives to the edge of the glass, where it meets thin strips of cells, that then convert the energy into electricity. Unlike other “transparent” cells that have been reported on in the past, this one really is transparent. In the past there has been partially transparent cells but they would create a colorful shadow that would therefor ruin a windows quality. “No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, said in a statement, “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.”
Essentially, instead of shrinking the components, they’re changing the way the cell absorbs light. The cell selectively harvests the part of the solar spectrum we can’t see with our eye, while letting regular visible light pass through. To get around this limitation, the Michigan State researchers use a slightly different technique for gathering sunlight. Instead of trying to create a transparent photo-voltaic cell, they use a transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC).* A luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) is a device for concentrating radiation, non-ionizing solar radiation in particular, to produce electricity. Luminescent solar concentrators operate on the principle of collecting radiation over a large area, converting it by luminescence and directing the generated radiation into a relatively small output target.
Basically, TSLC is the component of these windows that create the solar effect without getting the fluorescent colors on the edges. This new window can change window technology forever if it works as expected. Rumors have it that these windows will be 12x more efficient than a traditional cells. This could be a game changer for skyscrapers in particular, considering large commercial building take up 40% of the country’s energy usage.
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