Solar Glass + Solar Rooftops = 100% Electrical Power

“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU. Photo by Kurt Stepnitz/Michigan State University

Or very nearly so, according to Richard Lunt at Michigan State University. With 5 – 7 billion square meters of glass surface, researchers estimate that “transparent solar technologies have the potential of supplying some 40 percent of energy demand in the U.S.” and a similar potential for rooftop solar energy production. Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU, and one of the pioneers of the “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” technology believes:

“The complimentary deployment of both technologies could get us close to 100 percent of our demand if we also improve energy storage.”


“Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications. We analyzed their potential and show that by harvesting only invisible light, these devices can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar while providing additional functionality to enhance the efficiency of buildings, automobiles and mobile electronics.”

I have been watching this technology since at least 2013 with the announcement of a public-private partnership between a company called New Energy Technologies, Inc. and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. But as Lunt noted in 2014, these solar glass & coatings were not clear.

No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said Lunt “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.

At the time, the solar conversion efficiency of Lunt’s solar glass was not quite 1% (compared to approximately 7% for the tinted luminescent solar concentrators). Now, however, conversion efficiencies for the transparent luminescent solar concentrator is over 5%.

Although transparent solar technologies will never be more efficient at converting solar energy to electricity than their opaque counterparts, they can get close and offer the potential to be applied to a lot more additional surface area, he said.


Right now, transparent solar technologies are only at about a third of their realistic overall potential, Lunt added.


“That is what we are working towards,” he said. “Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.”

“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said in 2014. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

For more information:



Emergence of highly transparent photovoltaics for distributed applications – December 21, 2016 (subscription required)

Solar panels as inexpensive and as easily applied as paint?

Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering. Photo courtesy of University at Buffalo
Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering. Photo courtesy of University at Buffalo

According to a press release from EurekaAlert, researchers at the University at Buffalo are one of several teams working on photovoltaic cells that “could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls.”

“Most Americans want the U.S. to place more emphasis on developing solar power, recent polls suggest. A major impediment, however, is the cost to manufacture, install and maintain solar panels. Simply put, most people and businesses cannot afford to place them on their rooftops. Fortunately, that is changing because researchers such as Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering, are helping develop a new generation of photovoltaic cells that produce more power and cost less to manufacture than what’s available today. One of the more promising efforts, which Gan is working on, involves the use of plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials. These devices don’t match traditional solar cells in terms of energy production but they are less expensive and – because they are made (or processed) in liquid form – can be applied to a greater variety of surfaces.”

Solar roofing tiles, solar glass, “peel and stick” solar panels, and soon – if Qiaogiang Gan is successful – “paint on” solar panels… all leading to my idea of a truly integrated “green” building.


EurekAlert! is an online, global news service operated by The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Melanie Dawn Molina Wood is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate LLC in Miami, Florida. She is an Eco-Associate and is currently working on her LEED Green Associate’s accreditation.