Solar panels in disguise…

Even though some people choose solar panels to be more energy-efficient, people often complain about their appearance.

But, that seems like a small price to pay for sustainable energy. And hey, there’s no way around that cosmetic issue…

Or is there?!

A mosaic-looking home built from solar panels

 

Recently, researchers have designed “windows” that can absorb light and then power solar cells surrounding the perimeter of the window.

It works by placing a thin middle layer called conjugated polymer between two clear acrylic panels that look like regular windows.

The only thing that stands out is that these panels are usually different colors to help conduct the light to the middle layer.

That thin middle layer, AKA the conjugated polymer, basically does all the work. The team designed it to be able to absorb the light at a certain wavelength and then guide it along to the edge of the panels that are lined with solar cells.

A new type of conductor…

This new type of polymer can absorb, and give off red light. But if the molecular ingredients of it are changed, it could also absorb light by using different colored panels.  

The panels accept light from all directions but limit how it’s able to leave. Doing so can concentrate that light in the solar cells, which will then convert it to electricity.

Lead author Yilin Li, a postdoctoral researcher at Rice University’s Brown School of Engineering who started the project in a “smart glass” competition, states, “Right now, solar rooftops are the mainstream solution, but you need to orient them toward the sun to maximize their efficiency, and their appearance isn’t very pleasing…

“So we thought, why can’t we make colorful, transparent, or translucent solar collectors and apply them to the outside of buildings?

Solar-fueled homes are on the horizon

 

While it’s an innovative concept with a creative design, it still doesn’t beat the energy production of regular solar panels. The amount of energy generated by the test units is a lot less than the average commercial solar cells.

But, unlike normal solar panels that depend on a sunny day, these panels won’t have a day off on a stormy day.

They’re able to recycle light from inside the building as well as outside. Researchers found that they were better at converting light from LEDs than from the sun. That’s saying a lot, considering the sun is 100x stronger!

Li also states that “The polymers can even be printed in patterns on the panels, so they can be turned into artwork.”

Normally, conjugated polymers have been known to be unstable and can quickly degrade. But now they’re improving, and researchers hope one day they’ll be widely used and look appealing as well.