Turning windows into solar panels

apartment windowsI’d love to be able to fit solar panels to my home (not that we’ve been getting much sun this year, grouch grouch), but as I live in a flat I don’t have a roof to put them on. Thanks to a crafty hack from the boffins at MIT, that may not be a problem – they’ve found a way to turn windows into solar panels. [image by uqbar]

Sunlight is concentrated in existing solar power devices using large, mobile mirrors that track the sun as it moves across the sky. But these can be expensive to deploy and maintain. In the MIT device, called an “organic solar concentrator” and described in the latest issue of Science, the researchers painted a mixture of organic dyes onto the surface of a pane of glass. The dyes trap different wavelengths of sunlight and then guide the energy along the glass towards the PV cells at the edges.

“The point of all this is to get away with using far fewer solar cells,” said Marc Baldo, an electrical engineer at MIT. “The concentrator collects light over its whole front surface, but the solar cells need only cover the area of the edges.”

Not only does this make solar an option for people who don’t own an entire building, it also makes it a much cheaper proposition in general; solar cells aren’t cheap to make, and the industry can’t keep up with current demand as it stands.

And just to pre-empt someone piping up and saying that solar will never fully replace [energy source x], yeah, you’re probably right. But as one of a suite of renewable sources, it can make a contribution towards doing so – and right now we need every option we can get.

2 thoughts on “Turning windows into solar panels”

  1. Across nearly 60 years as an avid reader of popular science articles (and hard science fiction) I can’t help but feel jaded reading of the next thing to revolutionize, cure, or otherwise change life as we know it. In a weeks time, or less, one can gather a list of perhaps ten or more such findings. Well, to borrow from Fermi, “Where are they?”
    Yes there are some not so small exceptions, computers are one. It’s just the study supply of claims far exceeds reality. Not only is it annoying to me personally it can detrimental to public policy. Back in the first oil crisis all the claims being made now for alternative energy sources were made then. So where are they? Why is it I am reading the same types of articles claiming a great breakthrough has been made in solar cells, superconductors, wind energy, tidal, geothermal, blah, blah, year after year? Almost 40 years later, all this country has succeed in doing is allowing politicians, on behalf of “eco-warriors,” to cut our throats. We can not drill in 85% of the US. Do we have 40 more years to wait?

  2. The thing about the first oil crisis is that it ended. Oil got cheap again, and people stopped caring about energy conservation because gas was cheap. Whether it happens again remains to be seen.

    As for the 85% thing, it’s not like there’s guaranteed to be oil there, nor that we could get it out for cheap enough to be worthwhile. Besides, why should we be taking more of an admittedly destructive, non-renewable energy source out of the ground? It’s not a very farsighted thing to do.

    This technology would be very useful for me. All the apartments I live in have sliding glass doors that take up nearly the whole side of my apartment facing south. It would do wonders for my electricity bill.

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