Invisibility cloaks might seem like the stuff of fairy tales and Harry Potter, but scientists are coming up with these genius devices in real life. The invention is not actually used to sneak into places you shouldn’t be, but used for enhancing our energy use. Indeed, the latest research suggests that you could use invisibility cloaks in order to make our current solar panels more efficient.
What is the problem with modern solar panels?
Before we look at the invisibility cloak and how it can boost solar panels ability to catch energy, let’s consider the problem with modern solar panels. The big inefficiency in solar panels comes from the metallic strips that are used in these panels.
The panels need these metallic strips to hold the panels in place. Furthermore, they also help extract the generated current. Now, this might seem like a positive and it certainly is that for capturing the energy generated by the sun. However, the metallic strip can also reduce the panel’s absorption of the sunrays. Indeed, some estimates suggest the solar panels lose around 10% of their absorption ability simply because of these metal strips.
Introducing invisibility cloaks
To counter the above problem, scientists have come up with a solution: an invisibility cloak on top of the metal strip. The idea is to use a material on top of the metal and ensure all the sunlight is absorbed rather than reflected back in the air by the metal.
So, what is this invisibility cloak material that can do this? The solution is polymer. This simple chemical coating has the ability to create a surface that bends light and hides things from underneath it – making the metal strips appear invisible.
Martin Schumann and his team at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany have created a prototype solar panel using the polymer material. They have hidden the metallic strips from view, keeping their ability to extract the current but without hindering the absorption.
When the sunrays hit the solar panel, the polymer coating helps bend the light and direct it towards the solar panel. The idea is that the light isn’t then reflected but absorbed by the panel and therefore, improving the efficiency of the solar panel.
Does the solar panel perform as intended?
Did the team make the experiment and found the invisibility cloak to work as intended? Actually, the team noticed the coating performed better than they expected.
Now each of the metal strips covers around 6% of the individual solar panel. Therefore, the team hoped that the new invisibility cloak would improve the solar panel’s ability to absorb the energy by 6%. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Instead, the solar panel’s started absorbing 9% more of the sunrays.
Why did this happen? Well, the team found that as well as absorbing all the rays the metal strips used to lose, the polymer coating also trapped extra sunrays reflected by the solar panel as a whole. When the light was trapped, it then could be absorbed later – improving the efficiency more than the scientists hoped.
Possible problems with the invisibility cloak
Before everyone rejoices in the prospect of coating all of the solar panels in the world with the invisibility cloak, you need to calm down. The solution isn’t without its own problems. Another team of scientist has found that the polymer coating does create grooves, which can have a drawback. These tiny grooves have very small holes, which can then start collecting dust. As this dust continues to build-up, it will start blocking the sunlight and reducing the amount of sunlight that is absorbed. Therefore, over time it might start reducing in efficiency.
In addition to this problem, the polymer coating can start degrading when exposed to UV light. As you know, UV light is part of sunlight and therefore, a long-term exposure will start degrading the material and then decrease in effectiveness. Therefore, some work still needs to be done to show the material is able to withstand long-term use without it having to be replaced or recoated after just a few years. One solution might be a glass sealing around the panels. Although this hasn’t yet been tested and it’s hard to say how cost effective this would be. However, the current research is a step towards better solar panels.
Using solar panels
While the invisibility cloak mechanism will still require quite a bit of planning, solar panels are already a rather good alternative energy to use. If you don’t want to invest in placing them on your roof, you might like the idea of using a small solar chargeable battery to charge devices like your car and smartphone. If you use the HotUKSavings codes available with retailers selling solar batteries, you can also enjoy these devices without spending a fortune.
Science has once again shown that the way is using alternative energy sources in order to solve our energy problems. It’ll be interesting to see how the issue develops further in the months to come.