A Solar Advance You Can See Right Through

UCLA researchers are claiming a solar breakthrough that could lead to a transparent solar film that could be slapped on everything from windows to smartphones. Who knows, maybe even Google glasses (that’s my idea).

The key move in the reported near-doubling of efficiency of a cell the researchers introduced a year ago was pretty basic: They put two layers of the stuff together.

transparent solar

image via UCLA

According to UCLA:

The new device is composed of two thin polymer solar cells that collect sunlight and convert it to power. It’s more efficient than previous devices, the researchers say, because its two cells absorb more light than single-layer solar devices, because it uses light from a wider portion of the solar spectrum, and because it incorporates a layer of novel materials between the two cells to reduce energy loss.

Maybe Professor Yang Yang got the idea shaving one morning. Razors, right? Once upon a time men used a single blade to scrape away the fur. When twin-blade razors arrived, the idea was mocked, but now the number of blades seems to be limitless.

But back to the UCLA development. The university reports:

While a tandem-structure transparent organic photovoltaic (TOPV) device developed at UCLA in 2012 converts about 4 percent of the energy it receives from the sun into electric power (its “conversion rate”), the new tandem device — which uses a combination of transparent and semi-transparent cells — achieves a conversion rate of 7.3 percent.

That’s pretty impressive though of course – as the appropriately skeptical and, yes, the sadly cycnical love to point out in the comments – these exciting lab developments are one thing and products out on the market are another. But the researchers do say that the materials used for the cell “were processed at low temperatures, making them relatively easy to manufacture.”

Here’s hoping they can see it through to the finish.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply August 1, 2013

    Granny K

    I could probably power my condo and perhaps even my row with this stuff on my back windows.

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