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Are Transparent Solar Cells the Future of Solar Energy?

Photovoltaics, the technology that makes solar panels possible, has been continuously evolving, especially in the past decade and has provided us with very promising new discoveries and advancements. One of these came just this month, where a team of researchers from Incheon National University in South Korea has developed a new design for a “transparent solar cell”.

Transparent solar cells have been quite the “holy grail” of PV researchers as it has the potential of being integrated into windows, vehicles, cellphone screens and many other everyday items. Imagine having a house or an office building whose windows are capable of producing energy and powering your appliances. You give these unused and passive surfaces another purpose and functionality. That’s great, right?

But if you think about it, a transparent solar cell seems like a paradox because solar cells absorb the energy from sunlight and convert it to electricity, while being transparent means that it allows light to pass through it without being absorbed. So, how do transparent solar cells work?

Right now, the designs of solar cells, which are the most basic building blocks of solar panels, can be categorized into two. They can either be the “wet type” or those that are based on solutions or the “dry type” or those that uses metal-oxide semiconductors for their construction. The “wet type” solar cells are used in the more traditional types of solar panels, which are monocrystalline and polycrystalline solar panels while the “dry type” solar cells are the newer type of solar cell technologies, which include thin-film solar panels.

The “dry type” solar cells have a distinct advantage of also being able to absorb UV light and convert it to electricity. The researchers at Incheon National University, however, improved upon this technology even further by allowing the solar cell to absorb only this part of sunlight. They were able to achieve this by inserting an ultra-thin layer of silicon (Si) between the two metal-oxide semiconductors of the solar cell.