Speed Reads

The future has arrived

The solar window is here

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I'm as big a solar energy enthusiast as anyone — it is, literally, our best chance of preventing dangerous climate change — but I can understand the fact that some people find solar panels unsightly. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder — where I might see the bright, shiny energy source of the future, others will see an ugly metallic carbuncle. That means that not everyone wants to position panels on the roof of their home.

The obvious solution for those who don't like the look of solar panels (aside from less obvious solutions like giant solar crystal balls) are solar roof tiles. They look more or less like regular roof tiles.

But there's a new option for the aesthetically demanding: special windows that can capture the light that hits them.

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Milano-Bicocca have created a transparent solar window. They embedded quantum dots (nanocrystals made of semiconducting materials already used in solar panel systems to capture energy) into a transparent polymer. And because solar cells don't absorb all the light that hits them, light still comes through the window.

The real test, of course, will be whether these new window materials ever become cost competitive in the way that solar panels — and solar tiles, which use the same materials — are rapidly becoming. Because the technology is still being pioneered, it's still impossible to say. But considering how invisible solar windows would be in comparison to rooftop panels, this is almost certainly something lots of people will want, creating a large potential market.