What does the future of solar energy look like?
“Ideally, it doesn’t look like anything,” Miles Barr SM ’08, PhD ’12 tells National Geographic. His company, Ubiquitous Energy, has a vision to cover millions of square meters of glass surfaces—windows, smartphones, watches, and more—with ultra-thin transparent solar cells.
Ubiquitous Energy is among the leaders developing transparent photovoltaics. The company, spun out of research published from the lab of MIT professor Vladimir Bulović in 2011, has redesigned the solar cell to absorb only ultraviolet and infrared light and convert it into electricity. The technology, called ClearView Power, allows any surface to convert ambient light into electricity, while maintaining up to 90% transparency.
Conventional cells are typically 20% efficient at converting sunlight to electricity; cells developed by Ubiquitous Energy are about half that. “There is generally a direct tradeoff between transparency and efficiency levels,” Barr acknowledged to Nat Ge0. “With the approach we’re taking, you can still get a significant amount of energy at high transparency levels.”
And transparent cells needn’t be limited to rooftop panels: “You can let your imagination run wild. We see this eventually going virtually everywhere,” says Barr. His company is currently working with mobile device manufacturers to design prototype electronics powered by its technology.
Miles Barr named one of Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 in (2014).
Barr awarded the 2012 MIT-Lemelson Student Prize for inventing the first-ever solar cells fabricated on everyday substrates.