According to new research from scientists at the University of California, solar panels will be able to generate electricity 24 hours a day, even at night.
Solar panels are one of the most common methods of generating renewable energy from solar energy. To date, their only issue is that they are unable to generate electricity at night.
There is an old joke about three scientists discussing their respective countries’ space projects to travel to space. To avoid exposing myself, I won’t say where each one comes from. The first two are about traveling to planets in our solar system, each one further away. The third, on the other hand, is unchecked and ensures that his country will travel to the sun. Incredulous, the two scientists question him on how he intends to travel to the sun, a ball of incandescent fire. The scientist responds, “Of course, they’ll travel at night.”
When it comes to obtaining electrical energy from sunlight, the main disadvantage is that there is no light at night, so the photovoltaic cells do not function for a number of hours. The same thing happens to the propellers in wind power plants when there is no wind.
But it appears that scientists have not ignored this problem and have thought long and hard about how to use solar panels even at night, an idea that may appear as absurd as the joke I told at the start but which, all things considered, would be the ideal solution for the first-order solar energy power source.
Researchers at the University of California, however, believe that it is possible to design solar panels that operate at night by capturing invisible infrared light from the Earth. These panels could generate approximately 25% of the electricity produced by a solar panel during the day.
Photovoltaic technology today is dependent on sunlight that reaches the earth during daylight hours. However, that light goes out at night, and the solar panels stop producing electricity.
What if, on the other hand, we used our planet as a heat source and the night sky as a heat sink? This is where thermoradiation comes in, a specialty that, in theory, could use the night hours to generate electrical energy from the heat generated by those same solar panels during the day.
Thus, thermoradiating photovoltaic technology could use heat instead of sunlight to generate energy both day and night. Obviously, the concept is the work of Tristan Deppe and Jeremy Munday, not mine. The second is a professor at the University of California, Davis’ Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Meanwhile, Munday graduate student Tristan Deppe.
According to both theories, adapted solar panels would yield roughly 50 watts per square meter at night under ideal conditions, which is about a quarter of what solar panels currently output during the day.
In January, Deppe and Munday’s proposal was published in the specialized journal ACS Photonics under the title Nighttime Photovoltaic Cells, Electrical Power Generation by Optically Coupling with Deep Space, which translates to “Night photovoltaic cells, Electrical Energy Generation by Optically Coupling with Deep Space.”
A hot object emits heat in the form of infrared light, according to its maker. Of course, because a solar cell is cooler than the sun, it absorbs the light it receives. Because space is very cold at night, a hot object oriented on the sky would radiate heat, a principle that has been used to cool buildings and things and might also be used to create electricity.
Munday is working on small scale prototypes of these novel solar cells at the moment. The goal is to increase the efficiency of these panels so that they can produce more energy in less time and with a smaller installed area. The future will reveal whether thermoradiating photovoltaics can be used and are effective in this application.