In the photo on the left, Richard Lunt, one of the MIT researchers who developed the new transparent solar cell, demonstrates its transparency using a prototype cell. (Photo credit: Geoffrey Supran)
Solar enthusiasts have been waiting for years for that one earth-shaking development that would forever put their beloved photovoltaics (PV) front-and-center as one of the premier power sources on the planet. To date, much of success in solar R&D has been incremental increases in the efficiencies of how PV cells convert sunlight into electricity. But a fascinating technology is now under development in the labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that could be a game-breaker -- transparent photovoltaic cells that can be applied as a coating to standard windows and allow light to pass through while converting the sun's ray into electricity.
The technology is in the early stages of development and has a ways to go before it could convert sunlight into electricity at better efficiency rates than today's conventional solar panels. According to an MIT press release, researchers have achieved an efficiency of 1.7 percent in the prototype solar cells, but they expect that with further development they should be able to reach 12 percent, making it comparable to existing commercial solar panels.
According to an MIT press release, "The key technology is a photovoltaic cell based on organic molecules, which harnesses the energy of infrared light while allowing visible light to pass through. Coated onto a pane of standard window glass, it could provide power for lights and other devices, and would lower installation costs by taking advantage of existing window structures."