Up until now, several research teams have been touting nearly clear glass that can also generate solar energy. While promising, these lab products have transparency and efficiency drawbacks – not clear enough and low conversion efficiencies.  However, a Michigan State University Research team has emerged with a very promising fully transparent solar cell.

Richard Lunt holding solar panel glass
A screenshot of Richard Lunt and a new type of solar panel glass, from a Digital Trends informational video about his research.
According to a recent article in Digital Trends, that team created a fully transparent solar panel — “a breakthrough that could soon usher in a world where windows, panes of glass, and even entire buildings could be used to generate solar energy.” Before this point, the other solar cells of this type have been only somewhat transparent, typically having some degree of tinting. However, the prototypes created at Michigan State University look like any other kind of clear glass.

Assistant Professor Richard Lunt seeks to turn “solar farms into solar cities” with the new material, saying the buildings will look exactly how designers want them and the new type of glass won’t be noticeable. Lunt was recently awarded the 2015 Ovshinsky Sustainable Energy Fellowship, which supports research in energy sustainability.

From the article: “Versions of previous semi-transparent solar cells that cast light in colored shadows can usually achieve efficiency of around seven percent, but Michigan State’s [transparent luminescent solar concentrator (TLSC)] is expected to reach a top efficiency of five percent with further testing (currently, the prototype’s efficiency reaches a mere one percent). While numbers like seven and five percent efficiency seem low, houses featuring fully solar windows or buildings created from the organic material could compound that electricity and bring it to a more useful level.”

Harvesting electrons in the current high performance windows would elevate fenestration into a new whole new bracket of sustainability and competition among other energy saving building products. Will this solar cell technology be affordable? And durable? And perhaps most importantly, will the percentage of conversion to electricity provide an adequate return on investment for the homeowner or the commercial building owner?