For some people, the last hurdle to going solar is simple aesthetics. Solar panels can take up a lot of surface area, and not everyone finds them appealing to look at. But now thanks to the Swiss firm SCEM (Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology), aesthetics are no longer an excuse. The firm has developed the world's first truly "invisible" solar panels, according to Phys.org.
"For decades architects have been asking for a way to customise the colour of solar elements to make them blend into a building's skin," the company said in a statement.
The firm's answer has been to develop white solar modules with no visible cells or connections. White has long been a desired design for solar panels, but an effective white panel has proven difficult to create because white reflects light rather than absorbs it — obviously a concern for solar technology. Traditional black-blue panels may not be the most unassuming design, but they at least maximize solar absorption.
To solve this problem, SCEM focused on solar technology that absorbs light from outside of the visible spectrum. They instead developed solar cells that can absorb infrared solar energy, then combined them with a special filter that "scatters the whole visible spectrum while transmitting infrared light." This made it possible for crystalline silicon-based solar technologies to be molded into modules that can blend in with building surfaces of any color, including pure white. In effect, this renders the panels as good as invisible.
Another key advantage to these inconspicuous panels is that they can work at temperatures 20 to 30 degrees Celsius below standard models, due to the fact that the visible reflected light will not contribute to heat.
"White PV modules can also contribute to increase energy savings in buildings by keeping inner spaces cooler and reducing air conditioning costs," said the firm's statement.
The technology should also be of interest to the consumer electronics industry, for use on the surface of laptops and phones. The panels could also be installed on cars, buses or planes without interrupting the look of the vehicle.
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Promotional image: ownway/Shutterstock