The Spark

See-Through Solar Is Tomorrow’s Threat to Oil

In episode 5 of The Spark, screens and windows that soak up light could power your home or your phone

Invisible Solar Cells That Could Power Skyscrapers

Solar energy is the future. The problem is, it’s been the future for a long time. And while progress has been made, using the sun as a primary source of power hasn’t really broken through.

One possible breakthrough, however, is becoming clearer—literally. The engineers at Ubiquitous Energy are developing solar panels that are completely transparent and as thin as a laminate. They can do this by creating see-through solar cells that absorb only the invisible parts of the solar spectrum—ultraviolet and infrared radiation.

Ubiquitous Energy's see-through solar glass
Photographer: David Nicholson

The technology still has a way to go because the cells must become more efficient to prove cost-effective, but their promise is big: solar cells that could become a part of any glass or plastic surface. They could sit, invisibly, atop a smartphone’s display, allowing the phone to charge itself under natural or artificial light. And if the process became part of glass and window manufacturing, homes and skyscrapers could draw power from the sun without the spatial and aesthetic limits of current, opaque solar panels.

See-through solar panel
Photographer: David Nicholson

If solar is the future, transparent solar may be the future that actually works.

Bloomberg’s profile of Ubiquitous Energy is the latest installment of The Spark, which looks at innovators finding solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.