Transparent Solar Panels

Transparent Solar Panels: Cost, Efficiency, Pros & Cons

If you are familiar with the working of solar panels, you may know that the modules are just the receivers. The actual work is done by the inverters or collectors that convert solar energy into electricity or heat. Later this energy can also be stored in batteries.

Transparent solar panels produce electricity as well as heat by making use of passive solar heating.

In the case of passive solar heating, the energy is stored in the products and items of the interior of the house. During the day, the interior of the house collects the energy inside them and emits heat during the night.

Normal glasses on the window or glass vases don’t have a high thermal mass which is necessary to collect and store solar energy when sunlight falls on them.

This is why researchers are working hard to make transparent solar cells – so that everyday products of the house can be used to store energy without having to add anything of higher thermal mass.

Related: Solar Energy Storage Methods

This will help you to convert the regular things into heat emitters without having to change the look of the house.

Imagine having all the glass products of your house capable of doing so, then you won’t have to worry about high thermal mass to collect solar energy. 

Now you must be thinking about what transparent solar panels are and how they can help us generate passive solar energy.

Well In this post, I have covered a detailed guide on transparent solar panels. It includes:

  • What transparent modules are, their types,
  • Cost of transparent solar panels,
  • Their efficiency,
  • Advantages & Disadvantages of using them.

So without any further delay, let’s dive right in!

Transparent Solar Panels

Transparent solar panels are nothing but solar panels that are transparent in appearance. 

These transparent panels installed on the windows of offices or homes can produce electricity and passive heat.

Not only this, but these modules have the potential to replace the normal glass window and convert a building into a solar energy producer.

Researchers at MIT holding Transparent Solar Cell
Image Source: MIT Energy Initiative | Credit: Justin Knight

Types of Transparent Solar Panels

There are two types of transparent modules, i.e. Partial Transparent Solar Panels and Fully Transparent Solar Panels. 

Their names are pretty self-explanatory but I have discussed them in detail below so that you have a proper idea about them.

01. Partially Transparent Solar Panels

Don’t confuse the word partial. It doesn’t mean that the window is partially transparent and partially not. 

Partially means that the sunlight received by it (i.e. the sunlight that goes through it) is not fully absorbed to convert into energy.

A partial transparent solar panel has the capacity of absorbing only 60% of the sunlight passing through it.

Partial or semi-transparent solar panels are comparatively cheaper than fully transparent solar panels. 

These modules are good for big offices, buildings with a lot of glass windows – as they will be a cheaper alternative to fully transparent solar panels while producing the same level of output.

With a small investment, a highly efficient solar power source can be set up to power much more electrical equipment in the large office building. 

02. Fully Transparent Solar Panels

As already mentioned that partially transparent solar panels are good for certain cases, they are not suitable for small scales like a window or touchscreen. 

These fully transparent solar panels are capable of absorbing more than 90% of the sunlight and convert them into electricity.

However, their efficiency rate is still not that good. It is expected that with continuous progress higher efficiency rate can be achieved.

Although the efficiency rate doesn’t signify anything, it just means that more glasses and cells are required to get the best level of output from these transparent solar panels. 

If you want to have a brief idea of how transparent solar panels work, then you can watch the below video:

Cost of Transparent Solar Panels

Estimating the exact cost of implementing this technology is not easy. It varies from household to household with its purpose and application. 

But as compared to the benefits of cost-saving over the years, the minimal investment doesn’t look too much.

The factor affecting the cost of installation also includes the source and result i.e. the efficiency after adding the PV coating on the glass with little extra cost.

The cost of installation also depends on the type of material used in the making and the type of panels.

There was a time when silicon was used in making transparent solar panels which cost a lot, so to use it in making a solar panel generally takes the price higher than it needs to be. 

Apart from that, the partially/semi-transparent solar panel is a lot cheaper than the fully transparent one. But it’s a gamble against efficiency.

It all comes down to the area of usage if used in a smaller area, a fully transparent solar panel is the right choice but if the surface area is huge then it is better to go for a partially/semi-transparent solar panel.

The benefit of getting a fully translucent solar panel is it will get the work done by taking little space and incurring a low cost.

However, in the case of skyscrapers getting fully translucent solar panels will be a waste of money when the same result can be produced with a partially/semi-transparent solar panel.

Since the cost of installing transparent solar panels is not yet available to the public. However, the average cost may vary from 300 to – 500$ for a 240-300 watt solar window.

Currently, Heliatek, Brite Solar, and Ubiquitous Energy are the major companies offering transparent solar panels.

Efficiency of Transparent Solar Modules

The efficiency of transparent solar modules is quite low in comparison to traditional solar panels.

In general, the efficiency of fully transparent solar modules is around 1% which is quite low in the comparison of poly (13 – 15%), mono (15-20%), mono-perc (16-21%), or bifacial modules (up to 27%).

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Thus in terms of efficiency, transparent modules lack behind traditional panels. It means, to generate a similar amount of energy – we need to increase the number of modules.

Transparent Solar Panels – Advantages and Disadvantages

Although this is a game-changing invention it has both positive and negative effects that you must know about.

In this section, we have listed the advantages and disadvantages of transparent solar panels which will help you to decide whether you should implement this in your home or not.

Transparent Solar Glass

Pros of Transparent Solar Panels

1. If you own a big business or a big house then compared to the cost of investment to the amount of power it produces the cost is pretty low so it will be a win-win situation if you install these transparent solar panels.

2. During summers, the electric bills are going to get high because of the higher use of fans, coolers, air conditioners, etc. So instead of powering them with electricity, you can save some money by using solar power.

Related: Best Solar-powered Fans 

3. Using transparent solar panels is very less complex than using traditional solar panels.

4. Transparent solar panels can be installed easily in both offices and homes without any inconvenience or hard work.

5. These solar modules are an excellent alternative power source that doesn’t take any additional space in your house and can be easily put up in the windows.

6. Lightweight and portable – New transparent solar modules are very lightweight that makes them easily portable. One can take it to places without any problem and can be installed anywhere without doing any hard work to put them up.

7. These solar cells are not only an alternative power source but also a means to lessen the use of coal to produce heat in the house.

These were some of the top benefits of installing transparent solar panels at your house or building. However, these advantages may vary from household to household and location to location where they are being installed. 

Related: Benefits of Solar Energy

Cons of Transparent Solar Panels

Along with the many advantages of installing these panels, there are a few disadvantages as well. Studying the disadvantages will help you to decide, whether you should go for this new technology or not.

1. The amount of power produced by transparent solar panels is very low. So to power a big house, you need to buy a large set of modules.

2. A major drawback of transparent solar panels is that they are not capable of powering up the existing electronic accessories. So if you want to power electronic equipment then you will have to buy new equipment that is compatible with them.

3. To overcome this major drawback, many companies provide you with special bulbs and fan sets that are well-matched with each other’s workings. 

So if you are thinking of buying transparent solar panels then you will also have to buy these additional accessories that come with an additional cost. 

4. As you know, these panels don’t have a high thermal mass to store the energy, so they need a continuous supply of sunlight to work properly. If these panels are getting intermittent sunlight then it is going to affect their performance.

5. Since transparent solar panels are made of glasses, extra care is needed while handling them. If intense care is not taken while handling them there is a higher chance of these panels getting broken or damaged.

To summarise we can say that it’s not too powerful, needs different electronic devices to work with, and needs extra care while handling. 

Comparing it with the advantages, it is a one-time investment and the results are not immediate. It takes time to show results but the results are worth the time and effort.

Related: Disadvantages of Solar Energy

Challenges Associated with Transparent Solar Panels

Although it seems that transparent solar panels are cheaper these days, it was a challenge to lower the cost since it was first introduced.

In the beginning, silicon was used but its higher cost made researchers rethink the material used in making this translucent solar panel. This is when they came up with thin-film PV cells which made manufacturing amorphous solar cells a lot cheap. 

Another challenge was the surface area coverage. The traditional blue solar panels that are used to put up on the rooftop used to look bad. But with the introduction of transparent solar panels can solve the surface area problem by placing them in place of windows without having to look bad or take up any more space of the house.

Now researchers are facing a big challenge to use these PV cells to make several daily applications of solar panels. 

It has a high commercial potential so they are focusing their effort on making the screen of the mobile device to be working as a solar panel.

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Transparent Solar Panels

FAQs

What are the two types of transparent solar panels?

The two main types of transparent solar modules are:  1). Partially Transparent Solar Panels & 2). Fully Transparent Solar Panels.

How much do transparent solar panels cost?

There is no public information available regarding the cost of installing transparent modules. In general, solar windows with 240-300 watt capacity vary in price from 300 to – 500$.

How efficient are transparent solar modules?

The efficiency of fully transparent solar modules is around 1% & can go up to 6% which is quite low in the comparison of poly (13 – 15%), mono (15-20%), mono-perc (16-21%), or bifacial modules (up to 27%).

Are transparent solar panels worth it?

There is still a lot of room for improvement and this technology is aiming for a higher efficiency rate. Rather than buying it immediately, you should wait a year or more so you can get the most value out of it.

Final Words

I hope by now you have learned a lot about transparent solar panels. In this article, we have discussed it in detail along with the cost and its benefits. 

Not only this, but we have also got you covered with the pros and cons of transparent solar modules.

This post will help you a lot in making better decisions if you are planning to buy one in the near future. 

To make a final verdict I will say that the best is yet to come. This technology is not yet at its peak and it is now continuously improving and aiming for a higher efficiency rate. 

If you are not thinking of buying it immediately then it will be a good idea to wait for a year or more and get the best of it.

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