The next time you come into contact with a solar panel, you may not actually be able to see it. Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are well on their way to inventing the world’s first commercially viable “see-thru” organic solar photovoltaic panel (OPV). The new invisible solar panel, called the SolarWindow, would replace glass windows in commercial and residential buildings, and would unobtrusively generate solar power throughout the day.
The SolarWindow project is being worked on by New Energy Technologies, Inc., in collaboration with scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Although the SolarWindow has been in development for a number of years, only recently has it achieved the size of a small window. Today, the SolarWindow can encompass an area of 170 square centimetres (26 square inches), which is more than 14 times larger than the previous version of the OPV module.
The manufacture of a SolarWindow consists of spraying liquid-form polymers onto a substrate. Last month, scientists were able to use a high-speed/large-area solution-coating process, which allowed for a more rapid scale up to bigger glass surface areas. Unlike conventional solar technology, which relies on silicon-based photovoltaic cells, OPV technologies use organically synthesized polymers, which are cheaper to manufacture.
Current challenges NREL and New Energy Technologies researchers face are making the cells more efficient and scaling them up to encompass larger surfaces areas.
When it becomes commercially-viable, the SolarWindow would be an attractive way of generating solar power at commercial or residential buildings. Since these buildings need windows anyways, deploying the SolarWindow would provide both the functionality of a window and the power-generating capabilities of a solar cell.
What are your thoughts on the new SolarWindow? Do you think it would be successful on the commercial market?
Image CC licensed by Stephen Heron: Many opportunities: reflections in a glass-sided building