New Translucent Solar Panels Allow Greenhouses To Operate More Efficiently
With growing populations and climate change (no matter what the source) facing the world, the question of feeding the masses continues to be a topic of concern. How are we going to accommodate everyone over the long haul even under the best of weather conditions, much less if the temperatures and sea levels continue to rise? One solution often bandied about is greenhouses, but traditionally they’ve been expensive to set up and operate. Part of that may be getting ready to change with the introduction of translucent solar panel technology by a group called Soliculture.
Developed at UC Santa Cruz in the Thin-Film Optoelectronics Laboratory of physics professor Sue Carter, Soliculture has been spreading the word to farmers and growers as to the benefits of their new product. The panels aren’t your old-school green solar panels. These new panels are a brilliant shade of magenta but they’re more translucent than their earlier counterparts. This and their color allow for greater efficiency. Glenn Alers, CEO of Soliculture and adjunct professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, said, “To put it simply, Soliculture panels allow more power, more produce, more profits.”
Luminescent Solar Concentrators
Like a lot of inventions, this one came about as an accident. While the research team was working on luminescent solar concentrators — which use a fluorescent dye for absorbing light and significantly boost the efficiency of solar panels — they noticed the waste light of the rosy-colored panels wasn’t wasted at all, it was actually serving as fuel. “The concentrator dye absorbs the sunlight and then re-emits it as lower energy photons. This means you can use a lot fewer solar panels, because the absorber is doing the work,” explained Carter.
No solar panel system is 100 percent efficient. Because of this, there is always a certain amount of light that goes unused by the panels that is essentially lost. At the same time, plants don’t utilize the total spectrum of visible light for the photosynthesis process. But grow lights enhance or optimize the colors of light they do use. During testing in the lab, Soliculture’s panels absorbed green light and gave off red light to boost the power generation of the solar cell. As it turned out, the surplus of red light just so happened to fall exactly within the scope of light that plants do use. Carter noted, “We realized that the red color of the light was exactly what you see in commercial grow lamps for plants.”
Currently, Carter and Soliculture are working together to show people that the potential for a zero-energy greenhouse is feasible. Alers stated that, “We’ve recently gotten a lot of interest in our technology in Canada. With such a short growing season combined with high electricity rates, the need for panels like ours makes perfect sense.” As far as the short growing season, this could be said of Nordic countries and other parts of the world, including vast stretches of northern Russia. Here in the U.S., solar greenhouse projects make a lot of sense due to the fact they would qualify for federal tax breaks put in place to promote solar energy.
This is just one of many promising green technology solutions coming down the pike in an effort to meet the demands of world hunger. Every little bit counts.