When you hear someone say that something is “the future”, it’s always hyperbole. And yet, we’re here to tell you that this little square of plastic might be the future.
This isn’t just clear plastic — it’s a solar panel. Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” that can be attached to a glass surfaces to absorb certain wavelengths of sunlight that the device then converts into usable power.
While this isn’t the first solar panel that you can see through, it IS the only one that’s completely transparent. Earlier attempts would tint the window glass making it ill-suited for offices (because who wants to work in dim light all day… unless you work in a night club or a coal mine).
These earlier panels were also inefficient at making power… but unfortunately so is the transparent one. Right now it lacks the energy conversion to, say, regularly power an entire building, but it’s still in the early stages of design, and the researchers are hoping to at least quintuple their current efficiency.
However, something like this might be useful via ubiquity even if it’s inefficient. The goal is to put a version of this technology is office building windows, and even on things like smartphones to invisibly harvest sunlight when the phone’s in use.
Combined with other clean energies like wind to provide a higher percentage of the power we use, clear solar panels like these could help reduce energy use and pollution around the globe.