The way we power our homes could be transformed after the creation of glass-like transparent solar panels.
Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have developed a new kind of polymer solar cell (PSC) which has around 70% transparency to the human eye, meaning that it could be used to make the windows for housing and other buildings.
Transparent Solar Cell
The photo-active plastic that the cells are made from converts infrared light into an electrical current via a see-through film acting as the top electrode. This conductor is made up of a fusion of silver nanowire and titanium dioxide nanoparticles, replacing the opaque metal electrode that had been used previously.
This composite electrode allows the cells to be fabricated using solution processing, an economical method of construction.
These breakthroughs mean that the solution-processed and visibly transparent PSCs have 4% power-conversion efficiency.
UCLA professor and research team leader Yang Yang has been discussing the many benefits of this new PSC: "These results open the potential for visibly transparent polymer solar cells as add-on components of portable electronics, smart windows and building-integrated photovoltaics and in other applications."
As well as the plastic-like material being flexible and lightweight, they can be produced at high volume for low cost.
Further research is already being carried out investigating the possibility of using PSCs in a wider area. Advances in applications could see them being facilitated by high-performance, transparent photovoltaic devices, such as building-integrated photovoltaics and integrated photovoltaic chargers for portable electronics.
This is not the first time that research has been done into transparent or semi-transparent PSCs. However, previous attempts had resulted in low transparency and/or efficiency due to the use of unsuitable polymeric photovoltaic materials and ineffective transparent conductors.
The team made up of researchers from California NanoSystems Institute, the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and UCLA's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have certainly come up with an economical, efficient and discreet solution to solar power. It would not be farfetched to see this new transparent PSC becoming more prevalent than crystalline silicon solar panels or even amorphous crystalline solar panels in the future.