Leonardo DiCaprio has urged people to encourage leaders to “buy green power like wind or solar energy,” in order to sustain a habitable planet for the future.  Morgan Freeman believes we should develop alternative power sources “from solar to wind,” in order to “clean up the environment.”  Solar power as a renewable source of energy has a high profile these days, with celebrities, technological experts and politicians all keeping up with the latest advances.  Ubiquitous Energy is a group that is committed to making transparent solar technology a feasible option for future years.  What exactly is transparent solar power, how does it work, and how will it become an everyday part of our lives?

Transparent solar technology

So-called transparent solar cells are pieces of plastic or glass film that can be placed on surfaces like windows, walls and panels.  In reality they are translucent, as they allow light to pass through and are not completely clear.  Most surfaces do not require truly transparent panels, but Ubiquitous Energy, a group associated with MIT, is in the research and development stage of producing transparent solar film that could be used on cell phone or tablet screens.  Transparency is key here, because it should ensure that the quality of colours and the clarity of images will not be compromised.

One of the reasons that this has caused significant interest in the solar energy community is rather down-to-earth.  It means that those of us who are tired of trying to remember to charge our phones, tablets and other devices, will no longer have to make the effort.  Transparent solar cells placed unobtrusively over a device screen will have the ability to absorb energy from the sun, lightbulbs or even built-in backlighting, allowing the gadget to use that free power to recharge itself.

Ubiquitous Energy is developing a technological triumph – a marketable commodity which is intended to be affordable enough for the general market in time, and practical enough to be appealing to a wide variety of people and manufacturers.  The group’s statistics reveal that the solar cells it can currently produce are about 60% transparent and 2% efficient.  Solar technology generally aims to be 10% efficient, so Ubiquitous Energy intends to improve the cells’ efficiency and light absorption properties by using nanoscale engineering.

How it works

Solar energy is captured by equipment designed to absorb light.  Visible wavelengths of light are seen by humans as colours from blue to green, and yellow to red.  However, light exists in other frequencies too, and although the sun emits infrared and ultraviolet types of light which solar cells can capture, we don’t see them.

Regular, non-transparent solar cells generate power by drawing in light from the visible spectrum, and the ultraviolet and infrared rays pass through.  Transparent solar cells do the opposite by absorbing ultraviolet and infrared rays, and letting visible light through.

How will transparent solar cells become part of our daily lives?

If Ubiquitous Energy is successful in developing this product, the world could see transparent solar cells becoming commonplace in the everyday environment.  Solar panels could be placed on buildings, windows, vehicles, devices such as tablets and cell phones, or on clothes and sunglasses.  Machines could charge themselves, and significant amounts of energy could be generated and stored for other uses.

The possibilities are still being dreamed of, as scientists and innovators like Ubiquitous Energy learn more about the world’s mysterious, unique, personal source of natural power: the sun.