Are Transparent Solar Panels Worth Considering?

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Jack Ayre

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What Are Transparent Solar Panels?

Transparent solar panels (also known as invisible, clear, and see through solar panels) are cutting-edge renewable technology developed to incorporate solar power into common surfaces and structures like windows and vehicles using highly transparent solar cells.

Thanks to the somewhat see-through design, clear solar panels can be laminated into an existing architecture without completely changing its appearance. Therefore, these panels can be a good addition to modern infrastructures.

Their thin and lightweight design gives them an upper hand against traditional panels that are bulky. Given that advantage, are they worth it regarding energy efficiency though?

Let’s explore the pros and cons of transparent solar technology, how the panels work, and how they compare to traditional panels.

Why Use Clear Solar Panels?

Since they can harness solar power without blocking natural light, see through panels are gaining popularity as clean energy solutions in modern infrastructures and buildings. 

With their semi-transparent quality, they can power a building while preserving its aesthetics, letting natural light in, and not obstructing the view. 

They’re an example of building-integrated photovoltaics or BIPVs, which means that they can be integrated into many different areas including windows, roofs, doors, and other building structures. 

Are These Panels Entirely See Through?

Despite being available for around a decade, people still mistakenly believe that these panels are entirely see through – but this isn’t entirely true. The solar glass used is a tinted glass with only around 30-40% transparency.

However, their partially see-through quality sets them apart from traditional panels, which are opaque, and come in colours blue or black. 

What Are the Types of See Through Solar Panels?

Not all transparent solar PV panels are entirely clear, and they’re categorised according to their transparency spectrum measured in percentage. Given that fact, the higher the percentage of a transparent solar panel, the higher its visibility.

There are two types of clear solar panel: partially transparent and fully transparent. 

Partially Transparent Panels

These panels are less see through compared to other solar panels, and one common example is thin-film solar panels. They’re around 60% transparent and can be more than 10% efficient. 

Unlike fully transparent panels that use organic molecules as solar cells, partially transparent panels are made using ultra thin layers of semiconducting materials sandwiched between two sheets of solar glass. 

Some of the most commonly used semiconductors for these solar panels are cadmium telluride and amorphous silicon.

Cadmium telluride thin-film solar panels are the most efficient. They can be around 20% more efficient and have the least carbon footprint, not to mention that they’re less expensive to manufacture. 

On the other hand, amorphous silicon is the oldest type of semiconductor used for thin-film solar panels. Unlike crystalline silicon, amorphous silicon thin-film solar panels are relatively inexpensive to manufacture. The only downside is they’re poorly efficient (less than 10%) , so you’ll generate electricity at a much lower rate.

Thin FIlm Solar Panels

How Do They Work?

Compared to fully transparent solar panels that use transparent organic molecules to capture invisible wavelengths of light, partially transparent solar panels use thin layers of semiconductors to achieve a slightly see-through effect. 

These semiconductors absorb photons from the sunlight, which in return, excite electrons in the semiconducting material, producing electric current as a result.

Fully Transparent Solar Panels

The fully transparent solar power technology was pioneered by a team of researchers at Michigan State University, led by engineer and physicist Dr Richard Lunt, in 2014. The team experimented with organic salt molecules, turning them into plastic-like, transparent material.

They were able to develop solar panels that are highly transparent (86%). However, since these panels are still experimental – being only around 1% efficient – they are not really suitable for full commercial use as yet. However solar windows are being installed commercially as part of the move towards transparent solar solutions, so there is a desire for panels with photovoltaic glass that’s more see through.

How Do They Work?

The organic molecules in the transparent material let sunlight pass through while absorbing its non-visible light components. It converts non-visible light into usable renewable energy through the thin strips of photovoltaic cells around the edge of the glass.

Also known as a transparent luminescent solar concentrator or TLSC, these organic molecules capture infrared and ultraviolet light. A transparent solar concentrator is a key part of solar energy generation for transparent solar cells.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Transparent Panels?

Learn the benefits and downsides of using transparent panels:

Pros

Aside from generating clean energy that helps minimise carbon emissions, here are some advantages of using transparent solar panels:

1. Flexible and Space-Saving

Since transparent panels can be incorporated into existing structures like windows and doors, you won’t need massive space to incorporate them into your property or building. 

Additionally, developing highly transparent solar panels that are more see-through than those currently available in the market will allow solar panels to be installed in place of glass windows, creating solar windows. 

Thus, transparent panels make solar-power-dependent skyscrapers a possibility in the future. 

2. Lightweight and Easy to Install

Compared to traditional, opaque solar panels, transparent panels feature a thin and less bulky design. That makes them portable and easy to install even in different locations. 

They can also be installed on vehicles, boats, and small utility sheds.

3. Allows Entry of Natural Light

Incorporating transparent panels in your crystal windows or roofs lets natural light in. That way, you can cut back on lighting usage during daytime, allowing you to save on electricity costs.

4. Inexpensive

Transparent panels are inexpensive to manufacture, making them cheaper than typical solar panels. 

Cons

One of the significant disadvantages of transparent panels is their power-generating efficiency. Find out why:

1. Lower Efficiency

Unfortunately, the low costs and ease of use come with a price. A transparent solar cell is less efficient (around 10% efficient) than conventional photovoltaic solar cells (up to 25% efficient), which means that they can capture and convert less energy compared to conventional solar panels. 

2. Less Durable 

Since fully transparent panels are made with organic compounds, they may degrade faster than silicon semiconductors. 

3. Limited Supply

The technology is still quite new; that’s why transparent panels are still undergoing experiments and research to increase efficiency. As a result, they’re not overly common, unlike traditional panels, though their use will increase as the technology improves. 

Who Should Get See Through Panels?

Due to their limited efficiency, clear panels aren’t convenient power solutions for most residential properties. 

That said, you should opt for transparent panels if you want to power the following: 

1. Greenhouses

Since transparent solar panels allow light to pass through while generating solar energy simultaneously, they’re excellent power source options for greenhouses

That way, you can support your plants’ development while harnessing sustainable energy necessary to run the greenhouse.

2. Sheds

Whether using a small shed for recreational purposes, storage, or retreat, powering it with electric cable connections may not be the best choice if you want to save on installation costs or preserve your landscaping. 

Therefore, transforming it into a solar-powered shed is cheaper, more DIY-friendly, and transparent panels can be installed even on uneven surfaces. 

Transparent Solar Panels vs. Conventional Solar Panels: Which Is Better?

Though transparent solar panels are cheaper and easier to install, their usage is limited only to small-scale structures. While you can incorporate them on buildings, they may only work for those with conventional designs where glass windows or sunroofs can be utilised as space for panels. 

When it comes to installation and maintenance, traditional solar panels need a dedicated space and professional installation. Despite that, traditional solar cells have the upper hand when it comes to home efficiency. If you’d ask us, traditional panels still reign supreme and here’s why:

To power a home with solar energy, you need double or triple the number of transparent solar panels to level the energy efficiency of traditional solar panels. 

Given that fact, you can only trust industry leaders regarding solar panel installations—be it for your home or commercial needs. At ESE, you’ll not just save up to 70% on energy bills and enjoy renewable energy, but receive a 15-year free maintenance plan with a lengthy warranty. At the same time, you can get the best deal with Price Match and 0% VAT installations.

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Born in North West England, Jack kicked off his career in the insurance arena, dealing with claims for three years. Always up for a challenge, Jack leapt out of his comfort zone and embarked upon 5 years of excitement with the military.

Working for the Ministry of Defence, Jack specialised in counter-terrorism which took him to places such as Dubai, Oman, Iraq, Norway and Bahrain. During this period he worked with various Governments implementing strategic operations to prevent terrorism.

After travelling around various countries Jack increasingly came across various forms of solar from large solar farms to domestic solar panels. From here Jack took a keen interest in all things solar and started reading about the technological capabilities with a view to entering the industry after his career in the Ministry of Defence.

Once home after 5 fruitful years, Jack had 3 months leave in which he immersed himself in a solar crash course and got applying for jobs within the solar sector. He came across ESE Solar, a long-established forward-thinking company whose head office was only a stone’s throw away from him. He picked up the phone to see if there were any vacancies and within a week had a successful interview and obtained a full-time job, starting in the technical team.

Within the first few months, Jack onboarded in various online courses during work and social hours to speed up his knowledge of all things solar. Due to his strong work ethic and thirst for knowledge Jack was promoted to Head of Technical at ESE Solar. He currently leads the team and oversees the product development of new technologies within the company alongside assisting where necessary on their maintenance department.

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