See-through power: Transparent solar panels are here!

Welcome to a world where your windows can be a source of energy
transparent solar panels Looking into the future of power. (Richard Hunt/Michigan State University)

Creating a future powered by renewable energy is becoming more important all the time. Some countries are already looking for ways to one day rely on it for 100% of their energy. Along with wind and hydro, solar is a major part of this future.

But how to make it practical?

For example, one long-standing issue with solar was that when the sun went down so did your power! Now thanks to improved battery technology, solar energy from the day is becoming easier to store for later use at night. Therefore, better consistent power.

Space hog

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Solar farms can take up a lot of space. (Getty Embed)

Another issue? Solar panels need a lot of space to generate the same amount of power as a fossil fuel factory.

You can see that in the record-breaking sizes of "solar farms" (massive fields covered in solar panels) are appearing around the world from the U.S.A. to China to Australia. The world's largest is Kamuthi Solar Power Project in India. It is 10 sq. km (4 sq. miles), about as large as a major international airport, and yet it generates less power than most nuclear or fossil fuel plants.

But now, a new invention is hoping to turn a common everyday object into the power plants of our dreams...

The window.

The answer is clear!

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That's a lot of potential solar energy right there! (Getty Embed)

We already know that windows are exposed to a lot of solar energy daily (just walk into a greenhouse or solarium to feel the heat). What if all of those windows did more than give us something to look through? What if they were transparent solar panels?

You only need to look at the downtown core of any major city to see the possibilities! All of those skyscrapers...those office towers and condos...all of them grabbing and storing sunlight to turn into energy. It's an incredible, groundbreaking idea. But considering how solar panels so far have relied on dark, energy-absorbing materials that you can't see through, it didn't seem likely.

Leave what you can see...take what you can't!

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This German passport has images that are only visible under a special ultraviolet light scanner. Normally, they are invisible to the human eye, and so is ultraviolet light itself. (Getty Embed)

However, scientists have used a nifty fact about sunlight to get around this problem. They built solar panels that only capture the light that we can't see!

Visible light is only a part of what makes up sunlight. There's also ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths of light in there, too. These clear, solar panels are full with organic molecules that grab only these types of light. Meanwhile, visible light passes straight on through, no sweat.

Check it out!

Still needs work

Now to be "clear" (ha!), scientists are still working on improving these panels. Right now, transparent solar panels are only about 1/3 as efficient as normal solar panels (which means you'd need even more of them to capture the same amount of energy). But when you imagine replacing all of the windows in a 30-storey office tower with solar panels, the potential is pretty amazing.

We can't wait to see where this goes next!

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