Samsung and Sharp tried this a few years back but it didn’t go over very well…
In fact, I’d be surprised if you’ve even heard of these cell phones before. The Samsung Crest and the Sharp Solar Hybrid were part of a rare and endangered breed – the solar powered mobile device.
And while self-charging devices may sound like a great idea, practicality often trumps innovation.
The two aforementioned phones had a fatal limitation: solar panels had to be placed on the back of the device. No one wants to put their device face-down to charge it – this makes it impossible to see incoming calls and notifications.
Until now, solar panels have proven too opaque to place in front of a display. Because of touch screens, displays take up the majority of the fronts of phones now, leaving little room for opaque solar cells.
But that’s all about to change.
Ubiquitous Energy and researchers at UCLA are both developing transparent solar cells. These solar cells absorb ultraviolet and infrared light frequencies while letting visible light pass through.
And though the transparent solar cell is still in development, SunPartner Group has already found its own way around the current visual properties of photovoltaics.
The company has developed the Wysips Crystal, a screen that bends light around thin photovoltaic strips in order to create the illusion of transparency.
The process is similar to lenticular printing, which allows observers to view multiple images or perceive movement as their viewing angle changes.
Source: SunPartner Group
SunPartner’s current prototypes are 90 percent transparent and are expected to reach 95 percent transparency in near the future.
For now, the Wysips Crystal does not work as a full substitute for a charging port. The screen can only fully negate a phone’s power drain while it is idling.
However, the screen does extend battery life by 20 percent when in use and SunPartner expects that number to increase significantly. The company aims to extend battery life of phones by 50 to 60 percent within two years.
Reading Between the Lines
Nokia was originally thought to be working with SunPartner on a solar-powered phone but I wouldn’t put all my eggs in that basket just yet.
In March, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) posted a picture of a Lumia to Facebook with the caption “Sun, sun, sun, Here we come!” around the same time that SunPartner announced a deal with an unnamed mobile partner.
But investing in rumors is rarely a sound idea. Nokia could have simply been refering to Lumia’s ability to automatically respond to changes in brightness rather than the ability to charge with solar cells.
For now, we will just have to wait in anticipation to see who will take advantage of this technology. Whoever does will be gain a competetive advantage by being able to offer more efficient and smaller phones due to decreased battery size.
Applications for transparent solar cells reach well beyond phones. Just think about every object with a screen or window for a minute.
Transparent solar cells could eventually provide power to vehicles, televisions, offices, and homes without harming aesthetics.
E-readers are also a natural benefactor of this technology due to their low power consumption and high efficiency. A loss of transparancy is also less of a hindrance when reading than it is when viewing visual media.
Consequently, companies focused on transparent solar cells stand to generate large revenues as the market begins to demand the technology.
Transparent photocoltaics require organic solar cells so it is worth keeping an eye on players in this space such as BASF Chemical (BASFY).
However, BASF is not yet focused in the transparent space. Companies like Keneka (OTC: KANKF), Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP), and Hanwha SolarOne (NASDAQ: HSOL) are all already producing semi-transparent cells.
And because these companies are already in markets that want transparent cells, they will have a head start in generating sales as long as they acquire the technology.
Turning progress to profits,