Solar panels have shaken up the way we produce and consume electricity. By placing them on fields, walls, and rooftops, individual households and businesses can now generate their own power at relatively low costs — or even sell it to nearby power grids when their supply outpaces their consumption.
The challenge: Solar power will likely play an increasingly important role in curbing global greenhouse gas emissions as innovations continue to boost the efficiency of the technology.
One way solar could soon become more widely used would be to integrate solar panels onto a wider array of commonplace materials and technologies without inconveniencing the ways we currently use those things today.
Materials scientists have recently been exploring how solar panels could be made to blend in with their surroundings by making them more transparent. If achieved, energy harvesting devices could be discreetly placed on top of windows, display screens, or even human skin — expanding the reach of the technology even further.
By harnessing the unique properties of advanced solid materials, engineers have made progress toward transparent solar panels. But for now, even the latest designs allow less than 70% of incoming light to pass through them — not nearly enough for the devices to blend in with their environments.
The new design: A team of researchers in Japan have now made promising steps toward solving this transparency issue. Led by Toshiaki Kato at Tohoku University, the team's innovative design works by exploiting complex interactions between ultra-thin materials.