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Energy efficiency

Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) have revolutionized residential solar energy by introducing a transparent solar concentrator. Currently, the concentrators have an energy efficiency of about one percent, though researchers are confident that five percent will be possible in the near future. Non-transparent concentrators currently have maximum energy efficiency around seven percent. But how do the transparent concentrators work?

To understand how the new concentrators work, one must first understand how solar panels work. Opaque solar panels absorb photons from sunlight and convert them to electrons, making electricity. In the past, genuinely transparent solar panels have been impossible to create, because instead of being absorbed by the panel, light would pass through it, rendering them useless. Previous attempts at transparent solar panels yielded panels that were only partially transparent, and cast colorful shadows.

Instead of attempting to create a truly transparent solar panel, MSU researchers decided to concentrate on creating a solar concentrator instead. The solar concentrator is created from organic salts, which absorb non-visible wavelengths of ultraviolet and infrared light, then direct them to the edge of the plastic, where strips of traditional solar panel coating convert the photons to electrons.

Researchers are optimistic that the solar concentrator can be used anywhere that regular glass would be used: be it the screen of a smartphone or the windows on a building or car. The researchers plan to increase the concentrator’s energy efficiency before producing it commercially, but if the efficiency increases enough, we could soon be seeing solar energy for residential homes being generated by windows.

Solar renewable energy is already a fast-paced industry, with technological improvements happening every day. So far, the largest drawback to installing solar panels has been their large, intrusive design. By replacing traditional windows with solar concentrators, the energy industry could be revolutionized, and humans could usher in a new age of sustainable, environmentally-friendly energy.


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April 2024