Transparent solar panels, your future window screens

22 September 2022

The importance of solar energy increases each year, especially for us homeowners. Reflecting on the past year, it's clear that energy prices of more traditional power sources are becoming less affordable for the average household. About time to find new, durable and profitable alternatives. One technology seems to have promising prospects: transparent solar panels. Smaller than the ones on our roof, more subtlety and a lot of potential.

The tech behind transparent solar panels

Transparent (photovoltaic) solar panels or cells sound rather futuristic, but the technology is already here! The most common implementation of transparent solar energy is probably a window (like the ones in your home or car), though pretty much any screen could be replaced with these see-through panels.

The revolutionary technology behind these new solar panels varies, but solar concentrators are mostly universally engineered. Solar concentrators work similarly to conventional solar panels. These transparent solar cells are designed to absorb UV light as well as infrared light waves. We can't capture those waves with the naked eye, but the transparent panels can. Afterwards they convert these small particles of sunlight (photons) into electric energy.

Glass is everywhere!

So let's imagine that all glass surfaces in the world would be replaced by transparent solar panels. Ranging from your home to skyscrapers - maybe even your smartphone -, glass is nearly everywhere around us. If these glass surfaces could become power sources, the perks would quickly pile up.

1. Thanks to our preference for spacious, bright spaces and big windows in our homes, this new power source will fit right into our current lifestyle. Transparent solar panels can be integrated into your existing four walls, without any major renovations or interior changes.

2. The initial cost of classic solar panels is pretty high for homeowners as well as office buildings. Spacial area, (wo)man power, heavy machinery... you name it, you'll need it. With transparent solar panels those costs would be visibly reduced, thanks to lighter materials and no excessive space requirements.

3. Conventional solar panels are best placed in areas that capture the most sunlight. The placement and angle of those panels have a big influence on the energy efficiency of your investment. Transparent solar energy is not influenced by the placement of your windows or screens. As soon as sun rays touch your window, the solar glass will capture the UV and IR light waves and generate energy.

Efficiency/transparency complications

Today, however, there is still one issue challenging transparent solar panels, preventing this smart technology from being marketed worldwide: the transparency level. The more see-through a panel is fabricated, the more sunlight is allowed through the glass - resulting in a lower energy absorbance.

Today, the efficiency of partially transparent solar cells is estimated around 7.2%, while conventional solar panels are approximately 5% more energy effective. Experts, therefore, predict that replacing our current solar panels with see-through glass is very unlikely to happen in the near future. However, if the transparency problem could be fixed, we would be a lot closer to a truly sustainable lifestyle.

Transparent solar panels have the potential to make some real power moves. A leading technology in durable alternatives that could possibly replace polluting fossil fuels. Sounds almost too good to be true, right? Though it is still a work in progress, we can't help but dream of a smart home equipped with a more practical, and sleek solar power source.

Further reading