Big changes may be coming to the world of solar power. Traditional solar panels are black, a color that maximizes efficiency because it can capture all light in the color spectrum. However, these panels are not very attractive. Usually, they are limited to rooftops or remote solar farms—far away from public view.
But what if solar panels were . . . pretty?
Jay Guo and his team of researchers at the University of Michigan are developing colored solar panels with building design in mind. Someday, these superthin panels could double as colorful stained-glass windows or window shades. If solar panels were pleasing to the eye, architects might be more willing to use them in building plans.
“We’re combining both an optical design and an electrical design,” says Guo. “To harvest more solar power, we need more-beautiful solar panels.”
Previous versions of colored solar panels used dyes to create color. However, the dyes prevented most light from passing through the panels. Also, some of the materials used tended to break down over time.
Guo’s new color solar panels use thin layers of a more-reliable material called amorphous silicon. Varying the thickness of these layers creates different colors. This is the same technology used in flat-screen TVs and cell phones.
To increase efficiency, Guo’s new design uses superthin material that acts like two mirrors to trap sunlight. As the light bounces back and forth between the mirrors, more and more energy is absorbed by the solar panel. With this increased efficiency, color solar panels just might be coming to a building near you.