Clear Solar Concentrator Promises Increased Applications for Solar Panels

The UK recently passed further legislation intending to ensure that 15% of our energy capacity is provided from renewable sources. Many utility providers as well as corporate developers are seeking new technologies to meet this new demand. This effort has not been without reasonable opposition. One of the main concerns businesses have with converting to renewable energy is the effect such an implementation will have on their productivity and cash flows. Where solar panels have become popular in smaller businesses and the residential sectors, larger corporations have found that panels mounted on the roof do not alone, produce enough power for the building and the energy hungry machines that dwell inside it.

With the development of transparent solar concentrators, windows and other clear surfaces can be transformed into invisible collectors where solar energy can be harvested without the obvious visual burdens of current technologies.

What are clear solar concentrators?

Developed by the University of Michigan, the clear solar panel is a transparent covering which can fit on any window or clear surface to obtain solar energy. The department under the leadership of Lunt has made this possible. Unlike other current coverings, the clear solar panels do not give off any colour tints making it more desirable to use in office or work environments. Currently, the concentrators are working efficiently at one percent. Lunt has stated that the goal is to achieve a five percent efficiency shortly. However, to compete with the top LSCs the clear solar concentrators will need to have an efficiency of seven present or more.

Zhao and Lunt at University of Michigan
Zhao and Lunt at University of Michigan

The effectiveness and functionality of CSPs, as they are commonly called, is based upon the absorption of large amounts of solar energy through a series of organic molecules. Due to the design, past solar conductors would give off a rainbow effect as light passed through the covering (which of course is undesirable when they are applied to a common window); in the clear solar concentrators this is not the case. The organic molecules in the technology developed by the University of Michigan, direct the light to the edge of the panels where cell strips convert the light into useable power.

This technology is nothing new. Solar panelling and CSPs really began to emerge in commercial buildings around 2007 though they have been used by some companies as far back as the early 90s. CSPs are relatively new comparatively to the solar panel and other renewable energy products used. The benefit of this technology is that large buildings can use solar energy without having to sacrifice the design and aesthetics of the building or affecting the lighting ambience for the employees.

A solar panel design that works

It has been statistically proven that those work outside or in direct sunlight are healthier and happier employees. This is why the clear solar concentrator works in design as well as functionality. Because of the transparent design, and the designer Lunt has emphasised transparent, companies can designate large sections of their buildings to be adapted with this technology, without the fear of having strange, distracting or filtered tints impacting on the interior work area.

The fact that the clear solar concentrator can be used on any clear surface opens the door for building designers and architects to maximize the area in which solar energy can be gained. Many buildings have surfaces or planning restrictions in which traditional solar energy solutions cannot be accommodated. By providing a technology that is both very diverse in its applications, rewarding in its use and solves a real world problem, this technology promises to herald significant investment interest going forward.

Incorporating clear solar concentrators within the UK

It is common knowledge that solar panels have gained a favourable increase within the UK. Buildings both of a commercial and residential nature have started to convert to a more energy efficient methodology some now using solar concentrators and related devices to increase yield.

In large cities such as London where there is an abundance of large and wealthy corporations, the clear solar concentrator would be a welcome development, especially in areas that prevent the installation of standard solar panels on rooftops.

As it is quite clear that Lunt and the department at the University of Michigan will continue to develop this technology further, it will be interesting to see the speed in which these concentrators evolve and when they will be available for large scale production at efficiency levels that are acceptable for a sufficient ROI.