Solar Windows Could Meet Nearly All of America's Electricity Demand
By Joe McCarthy
There's an estimated 5 to 7 billion square meters of glass surfaces in the U.S. For windows on homes, cars and buildings, these glass surfaces perform a few basic functions—letting light and fresh air in when open, and blocking bugs and keeping the cold out when closed.
Now they could all serve another, altogether revolutionary, purpose—generating electricity.
A new paper in the journal Nature Energy describes how transparent solar panels could be placed over all windows and transparent surfaces in the U.S. to generate energy and decrease reliance on fossil fuels.
If that happens, nearly all the electricity demands of the U.S. could be met in conjunction with rooftop solar panels, and as long as storage capabilities are improved.
"Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications," said Richard Lunt, leader author of the report at Michigan State University, in a press release. "We analyzed their potential and show that by harvesting only invisible light, these devices can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar while providing additional functionality to enhance the efficiency of buildings, automobiles and mobile electronics."
Lunt's team at Michigan State University created a plastic technology called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator. You simply place the plastic over a glass surface—a house or car window or even a cellphone screen—and it begins to convert sunlight into electricity.
The plastic doesn't obscure visibility because it's harvesting invisible wavelengths from the sun. This energy is then passed onto strips of photovoltaic solar cells that exist on the outer edges of the sheet.
The technology is currently far less efficient than traditional solar panels—5 percent efficiency versus around 15 percent to 18 percent efficiency—and it isn't market-ready, but Lunt and his team believe the technology will become just as efficient and ubiquitous as normal panels in the years ahead.
After all, the technology is new and could follow the same rapid arc of efficiency improvement that traditional panels followed.
"Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years," Lunt said in the press release. "Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible."
In the U.S., for instance, the price of solar has dropped by 60 percent in less than a decade and this decrease is expected to continue as China invests enormous amounts of money into research and development of solar technology.
Offshore wind power has recently become a viable investment, and has the potential to provide all of the world's energy needs, according to a recent study.
According to The Global Wind Energy Council, Denmark gets more than 40 percent of its energy from wind power, and China and the U.S. get around 4 percent to 5 percent, which is closer to the global average. Solar, meanwhile, generates around 1.3 percent of global electricity demands.
Fossil fuels still account for the vast majority of electricity generation—but with advances like transparent solar sheets, that could soon change.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for the use of renewable energy. You can take action on this issue here.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Global Citizen.
England's Somerset county can now boast its first beaver dam in more than 400 years.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alex McInturff, Christine Wilkinson and Wenjing Xu
What is the most common form of human infrastructure in the world? It may well be the fence. Recent estimates suggest that the total length of all fencing around the globe is 10 times greater than the total length of roads. If our planet's fences were stretched end to end, they would likely bridge the distance from Earth to the Sun multiple times.
Early advertisement for barbed wire fencing, 1880-1889. The advent of barbed wire dramatically changed ranching and land use in the American West by ending the open range system. Kansas Historical Society / CC BY-ND
The authors assembled a conservative data set of potential fence lines across the U.S. West. They calculated the nearest distance to any given fence to be less than 31 miles (50 kilometers), with a mean of about 2 miles (3.1 kilometers). McInturff et al,. 2020 / CC BY-ND
- 'This Is Not Like a Fence in a Backyard' — Trump's Border Wall vs ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
Climate change is making ancient Hopi farming nearly impossible, threatening not just the Tribe's staple food source, but a pillar of its culture and religion, the Arizona Republic reports.
- These Are the Challenges Facing India's Most Sacred River ... ›
- Oil Spill Causes 'Major Disaster' for Ganges River Dolphins ... ›
By Kenny Stancil
An expert panel of top international and environmental lawyers have begun working this month on a legal definition of "ecocide" with the goal of making mass ecological damage an enforceable international crime on par with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
- Are the Amazon Fires a Crime Against Humanity? - EcoWatch ›
- 'Her Work Will Live On': Climate Movement Mourns Loss of Ecocide ... ›