We’ve had solar-powered calculators for decades, but can solar tech also power energy-guzzling devices like tablet computers or e-readers? A startup called Ubiquitous Energy
is designing clear solar coatings that may soon make that possible. The transparent cells could be added in layers on top of the screen of your iPad to harvest light.
The trick is the way the company’s photovoltaics take up light: they collect wavelengths in the ultraviolet and infrared portion of the spectrum but let visible light pass through. Traditional solar cells, in contrast, collect light in the ultraviolet and visible regions and therefore can’t be made completely transparent.
While other companies are also making clear solar cells, most of them use techniques that don’t have the same potential for transparency or strength as this design.
The same coatings could also be added to windows in buildings as an alternative to large solar panels on the roof—or as a way to generate extra power. Modern windows are typically coated for insulation during manufacturing, and the solar cells would just be one more step in the production process.
Right now, the product is in development, as the scientists work on making the solar cells able to generate more power, and even more transparent (right now, they’re about 70 percent transparent, but mobile displays require 80 to 90 percent transparency).
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Original tablet image via Shutterstock