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Plasmonic solar cells are an exciting new direction in harvesting light-based energy. These cells are well suited for Internet of Things applications. A particular area of focus for me is the design of battery-free IoT devices utilizing backscatter mechanism. Due to their power efficiency especially when harvesting energy from low-light conditions, customizability and ability to be tuned to specific wavelengths, these solar cells could greatly benefit such devices.
What excites me about something like a transparent solar panel is its applications for vehicles. Something like a solar powered car would be dependent on solar arrays, which consist of hundreds of solar cells that convert sunlight into electricity. The largest of arrays can produce over 2 kilowatts today, which could allow solar cars to attain the same speed as a typical car. Not only do the possibilities lie with cars, but they could extend to airplanes, trains, and buses. In 2020, petroleum products accounted for 90% of the total U.S. transportation sector energy use, and even electric vehicles use coal-fired power, so having the ability to leverage the sun’s free and abundant energy to make up for this could have significant impact. The energy input is the largest limiting factor as of right now, but I’m optimistic for a future where a solar powered transportation sector exists, not only with cars, but with airplanes, trains, buses, and boats. Transparent solar cells will be key to unlocking this reality.