Transparent solar panels

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transparent solar panel could help grey nomads
It’s a solar panel … but not as we know it! PIC: UNIST

The rapid advances in solar panel technology in recent years have transformed the Big Lap experience of many a grey nomad.

Having the power-producing capability to spend extended periods in the bush without having to lug a generator and extra fuel around has been an absolute boon. For caravanners and motorhomers, the biggest decision surrounding solar panels has long been whether it’s best to have mounted solar panels fixed to your RV roof, or the less expensive portable panels which can be placed in the sun even when you are parked in the shade, but are more prone to theft.

But what if there was a third way?

Researchers in Korea have just found an effective and inexpensive strategy that can apparently transform solar cells from opaque to transparent. This has long been the holy grail of the solar world and opens up the previously unthinkable possibility of RV windscreens and vehicle windows that double as electricity generators.

Crystalline silicon has been the material of choice for solar cells forever but, for all its stability and conversion efficiency advantages, it was thought it could never offer transparency … until now!

To avoid the reddish hue and other colouring that has so far hampered the quest for transparent solar cells, the Korean team punched tiny holes around the size of a human hair in the crystalline silicon to allow light to filter through. These holes are arranged in a carefully designed pattern and are invisible to the human eye.

The solid part of the cell still absorbs all of the light that hits it, which results in a high power-conversion efficiency.

Kwanyong Seo, of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), said it was all pretty exciting.

“At first thought, it was a crazy idea for all of us,” he said. “The problem was that crystalline silicon is not transparent so, before us, nobody tried to make transparent crystalline silicon with neutral colours.”

Mr Seo says that the see-through solar cell could make for ideal windows.

“Current solar cells need space on the ground, or enough space on the roof.” he said “We now need to have the mechanical stability and strength to apply our device to replace current windows.”

Mr Seo said the fact that most building windows – and presumably vehicle windows, too – were vertically placed causing light to hit the windows at a low angle was an advantage for the transparent cell.

When hit by low angle light, the electrical current in conventional cells drops nearly 30%, while transparent solar cells apparently reduce less than 4%, which allows it to use solar energy more efficiently.

While the most obvious application for this new technology will be office blocks and high-rise residential developments, sooner or later it could be taking Big Lap solar power to the next level. So, a windscreen that powers your fridge and camp lighting?

Watch this space!

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