With many trying to figure out alternate energy sources to wean us off the fossil-fuel teat, a potentially massive energy source passes over our heads every day: the sun. The trick, of course, is harnessing it in a useful way. Solar panels are expensive, so they’ve never really caught on for the average business or homeowner. But what if you could turn something that every home already has into a solar collector? What if that sunbeam coming in through the front window could serve as more than just a cozy resting spot for your dog?
As reported by the L.A. Times, scientists from UCLA have invented a transparent, plastic solar cell that allows visible light to pass through while absorbing infrared light to convert into energy. UCLA professor Yang Yang, the leader of the study, explains that “If you take a piece of glass and compare it to our solar cell, it is difficult to tell the difference.” Even the conductive metal that carries the charge is nearly invisible, producing a cell that is described as “70% transparent to the human eye.”
The technology is not without its problems, however. Creating a cell that is mostly transparent also means that it isn’t as efficient as traditional solar cells. Still, even bringing in 70% of what normal solar cells can manage is impressive, and apparently the technology is cheap to manufacture. Imagine a future where these cells could be applied to every window on a skyscraper…you’re capturing energy that was before just going to waste, and you’ve had to make basically no structural alterations to the building.
Yang estimates that the transparent solar cells are five to ten years away from being ready for mass commercial production, but still – this is exciting stuff.
Image courtesy of UCLA.