One of the biggest economical concerns for the future is how will we generate sustainable energy for the world. The oil and gas industry is a massive force against change towards renewable, environmentally responsible energy sources, but the fact remains that oil and gas reserves are finite. They will eventually run out. Even though the fossil-fuel industry emissions are quickly raising the planet’s temperature, which may cause catastrophic problems for our species’ survival before those reserves run out, we need to keep pressing for changes in how we produce and use energy to hopefully mitigate this devasting future. One such endeavour is transparent solar panel technology.
I came across this article recently and am intrigued by the concept. How many times have you been walking in a downtown core and are randomly blinded by the sunlight reflection off the windows of a skyscraper? Now imagine that the power of that glare is actually powering that and neighbouring buildings. Like trees, each new building is built taller than the last. So, the potential for this technology to be added to new buildings seems to make very logical sense since the new building will typically be exposed significantly to solar energy. Add in the fact that neighbouring buildings that catch the reflection would likely also capture residual solar energy, thereby collaterally improving the efficiency of the panels.
One issue that is still being worked out, though, is the efficiency/transparency trade off. In other words, the greater the transparency, the less efficient the infrared capture of the panels. This is obviously a major aesthetic concern because in an office building or residential building, occupants want to have as much natural light as possible. If they start to cover the building in these panels, it’s certainly possible the lure of the space may not be as competitive as other non-solar window buildings in a competitive leasing market. However, the trade off for leasing might be reduced rental costs once capital is recaptured, which may draw more attention in a buyer’s market.
The exciting part about this technology is the multitude of uses. As the article points out, glass is everywhere in our society. It’s on our cars, phones, buildings, planes, the list goes on. Imagine being able to recharge your phone while it’s in the sunlight! On a sunny day, you would not need to awkwardly ask the barista at your favourite coffee shop for a charging port.
The point of all this is that developing renewable energy technologies are quite exciting and futuristic. We sometimes tend to be apprehensive of the future because it’s unknown. Driving an electric vehicle if you’ve always used gasoline powered cars can be uncomfortable just because it’s different. But the concept we must remember when it comes to solar or wind energy is that they can be quite seamlessly implemented into our infrastructure without changing much of our daily lives. Having solar energy capturing windows in your house does not mean you wake-up to the dawn any differently than you do with fossil fuel energy. But it will help ensure that there still is greenery to complement that sunrise.