Imagine being able to charge your phone simply by walking outside. Better yet, picture an entire building powered by sunlight. A research team at Michigan State University has developed an innovative technology that’s bringing us one step closer to a more sustainable world: transparent solar panels.
The team was searching for a cheaper and more efficient way to utilize solar energy. Their result was transparent luminescent solar concentrators (TLSCs), which are devices that can be placed over windows. This is quite the breakthrough, especially since the unappealing aesthetics of solar technology are often criticized. Technologies like TLSCs are able to create energy without obstructing anyone’s view; it would be like looking through an ordinary window.
“The key was in developing materials and devices that harvest invisible light, namely the infrared and ultraviolet parts of the solar spectrum, and convert it to electricity,” said Richard Lunt, associate professor and materials scientist at MSU. “Because the materials do not absorb in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye, like a clear piece of glass.”
Renewable energy is particularly advantageous when it comes to protecting our environment. Solar power doesn’t rely on the burning of fossil fuels, which is one of the major causes of climate change. You may have heard of something called the Greenhouse Effect. Although it is a natural and beneficial process, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere have the ability to trap heat, resulting in quicker warming of our planet. According to scientific journal BioScience, the United States is facing major energy shortages due to increasing consumption of fossil fuels, and reducing this consumption could slow the rate of global warming.
Not only is this technology better for our environment, it also leaves room for even more innovation.
“You can think about deploying this anywhere: windows, tall buildings, sunroofs, greenhouses, electric automobiles and mobile electronics,” said Lunt. “They could be all around us without us even knowing, turning our cityscapes into solar farms.”
Students at MSU are also passionate about the environment. We are all too familiar with the phrase “go green.” Individual actions such as recycling and saving energy help, but new ideas and collaboration are key.
“We have a limited amount of resources,” said environmental sustainability major Charlotte Beers. “I think it’s essential to implement renewable energy. It has to be done.”
Beers also expressed her support of MSU’s Solar
“I think it’s really cool,” said Beers. “I think any new ways to make renewable energy happen is a good thing.”
However, change doesn’t always come easy; implementing solar power has some drawbacks. For instance, sunlight is intermittent and solar cells will be less efficient at night. Another problem is the political climate; with various government officials skeptical of climate change, it’s going to be more challenging to persuade them to invest in sustainable practices.
Regarding the obstacles, Lunt has some advice for those feeling sad or helpless.
“First and foremost, do not lose hope! Everyone can play a role and can get engaged. For example, you can contact your congressmen and urge them to support renewable energy and funding for renewable energy research,” he said.
When voices are silenced, it’s easy to feel angry and powerless. But the key is taking that anger and turning it into action. Change doesn’t happen without new ideas and innovation, and projects such as MSU’s Transparent Solar Cells are what will lead us in the right direction: to a cleaner, more sustainable future.
To learn more about renewable energy, other sustainable practices and how you can get involved, visit bespartangreen.msu.edu.
Reyna Hurand is a junior studying professional writing. You can usually find her curled up with a good book, her two adorable dogs and a hot cup of coffee. To learn more, you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @reynasblogxo.