NC researchers hope special solar cells can help greenhouses generate energy

CBS North Carolina image
CBS North Carolina image


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Greenhouses use the light from the sun to grow plants, but researchers say a lot of the sun’s energy goes to waste.

Now researchers from N.C. State University and UNC Chapel Hill are trying to change that by developing greenhouses that generate their own solar power. The concept is called the Solar Powered Integrated Greenhouse.

Plants only need certain wavelengths of light to grow, but researchers are developing special solar cells that would make use of more of the sun’s energy.

N.C. State Professor, Brendan O’Connor explained, “We can use wavelengths plants want to grow crops and then use wavelengths they’re not using effectively to generate power.”

Carole Saravitz, the director of N.C. State’s Phytotron added, “Later on it could be used either for heating the greenhouse or for cooling – for additional light during either cloudy days or other parts of the day ”

The cells would be semi-transparent.  The researchers say regular solar panels wouldn’t work for a greenhouse because they would block too much light.

“Solar cells are not transparent so when you put them on top you won’t get any light left for the plant,” said N.C. State Professor Harald Ade.

In order to find out whether the cells will work, researchers plan to test them with various types of plants to see whether their growth is affected.  If the cells work the way researchers hope, the goal is to make them affordable for growers.

“Our mission is to help the farmer. That’s the bottom line,” said Saravitz.

The researchers received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation for the project.

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