How Transparent Solar Panels And 'Quantum Dots' Could Make Skyscrapers Power Themselves

How Transparent Solar Panels And 'Quantum Dots' Could Make Skyscrapers Power Themselves

University of Michigan and companies like UBiQD are creating technology to turn windows in building facades into transparent solar panels.

Science & Tech

In labs around the world, scientists and engineers are working to transform skyscrapers into giant solar energy-generating pylons.

This has been made possible by a seemingly fictional invention that has appeared over the last few years—organic, transparent solar cells that when inserted into panes of glass, absorb sun and turn it into electricity to power the building.

A team from the University of Michigan contributed massively to this research, which was supported by the U.S. Dep. of Energy, by recently breaking the established scientific record for conversion efficiency (8.1%) and transparency (43%) in their carbon-based solar cells inserted into window glass, turning it to a slightly greyish-green tint like sunglasses or car windows.

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“The new material we developed, and the structure of the device we built, had to balance multiple trade-offs to provide good sunlight absorption, high voltage, high current, low resistance and color-neutral transparency all at the same time,” said Yongxi Li, an assistant research scientist in electrical engineering and computer science who participated in the record breaking.

In addition, the researchers developed optical coatings which when applied to the glass, as is often the case with treated windows on skyscrapers, boost both power generated from infrared light and transparency in the human-visible range—two qualities that are usually in competition with one another.