Tag Archives: solar cells

Finally, A Solar Panel That You Can Actually See Through!

Solar power technology has been advancing rapidly in recent years. The rapidly decreasing cost and increasing efficiency of solar power has set off a solar revolution worldwide.

Germany, which is currently using solar to produce 50% of its total energy, has led the charge, along with the rest of Europe.

Other countries, like India, have made the expansion of solar infrastructure a primary focus.

The growth of solar power in the last 15 years. Click to enlarge

Now, there’s a new advancement which could end up being the tipping point in the solar revolution: a totally transparent solar concentrator.

The “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” can be placed over windows to gather solar power while still allowing people to actually see through the window.

The concentrator, which was designed by a team of researchers from Michigan State University, can also be used on cell phones or pretty much anything with a clear surface.

Other people have tried to design transparent solar concentrators before, but the materials they used were inefficient (in terms of energy  production) and created some pretty obvious tints on the window.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass… 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,”

said Robert Lunt, an engineering professor at MSU who led the research.

A close up of the solar concentrator (Photo: Yimu Zhao)
A close up of the solar concentrator (Photo: Yimu Zhao)

This new solar concentrator uses tiny organic molecules that were specifically designed by Lunt and his team to absorb wavelengths of light that are invisible to the naked eye.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,”

said Lunt while explaining the process. This infrared light is then directed to the edges of the concentrator, where tiny strips of photovoltaic cells convert it into electricity.

Since the molecules used to capture the energy are specifically designed to not absorb or emit light within the visible spectrum, the concentrator appears to be almost completely transparent to the naked eye.

The electromagnetic spectrum. Click to enlarge

The technology is innovative, functional and versatile. Lunt believes it could ultimately become a huge part of our lives:

“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.”

Read the original story from Science Daily here.

India Building BY FAR the World’s Biggest Solar Power Plant

The project will be more than 10 times larger than any other solar project in existence today.

6 different state-owned companies will take part in the joint venture, which has a price tag of $4.4 billion.

Lake Sambhar (courtesy of NASA)
Lake Sambhar (courtesy of NASA)

Solar cells will stretch 77 square kilometers, an area larger than the island of Manhattan. The aerial image above shows Lake Sambhar, the designated site of the new plant.

The plant will have a capacity of 4,000 megawatts, about 4 times more than an average full-size nuclear plant.

According to Parimita Mohanty, a fellow at the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, the new project could reduce the country’s carbon emissions by more than 4 million tons per year.

Read the full story from the journal Nature here.

What’s Harder than Diamond, More Flexible than Rubber and More Conductive than Copper?

In 2010, the Nobel Prize for Physics went to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of Manchester University for their pioneering work with the material graphene.

So what is this “miracle material” exactly? Well, it’s a material made of a single sheet of carbon atoms (one atom thick) arranged in a hexagonal honeycomb-like structure like the one below.

graphene3

It’s extracted from graphite and is about 100x stronger than steel. It conducts electricity better than copper, is more flexible than rubber, and on top of all that, it’s so light that a roll of it can perch atop a delicate flower.

graphene2

Because of its extreme versatility, inventive minds are already salivating at all of the possible applications of the material including:

  • Flexible, electronic screens
  • Enhancing solar cells
  • Extending battery life
  • Sensors for measuring strain, gas, magnetism or pressure (graphene is extremely sensitive to environmental conditions)
  • Building new body tissue for regenerative medicine
  • A graphene “paint” could be used to coat materials and make them stronger, more conductive, impermeable and rust-proof

There is still plenty of work to be done, however. The material’s proponents acknowledge that the most amazing characteristics of the material are only achieved with the highest grade graphene- a level of quality which, as of yet, hasn’t been able to be reproduced on an industrial-scale.

But this isn’t stopping countries and corporations for leaping headfirst into the material. The British government has invested almost $100 million in developing the technology already.

graphene4

And since the research began in 2004, over 7000 patents using the material have been filed, the most being in China, which has over 2000 (Samsung owns more than 400 of those).

So, while the material may be too expensive for major every day use now, its future is looking very bright.

Read more from the BBC here.