New Solar Technology Could Generate Power at Night

New Solar Technology Could Generate Power at Night

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, have announced a new invention that could harness solar power at night. They published a paper in ACS Photonics that explained how new technology could use a different process than solar panels to generate energy around the clock. The team that published these findings is currently working on building prototypes.

This technology could represent a turning point in sustainable power. Scientists from around the globe have been working for decades to make our way of life more environmentally friendly. One of the most critical aspects of this effort is the attempt to generate reliable alternative energy.

Fossil fuels are still the largest source of energy, accounting for more than half of America’s electricity generation. These sources are nonrenewable, and using them releases harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. Nevertheless, they remain as the world’s chief energy source, mostly due to convenience and cost.

Researchers and companies alike have tried to make the shift to renewable energy for some time, but most alternatives still have their share of drawbacks. Some methods are expensive or inefficient, and storing alternative energy has proven difficult.

Solar radiation provides a widely available, renewable source of power, but current solar panels have limited effectiveness. The most apparent drawback is that they can’t generate electricity at night. While battery storage for solar energy is improving, this limitation also means it may not be able to keep up with demands.

The technology proposed by the UC Davis researchers might revolutionize solar power. Being able to work 24 hours a day would significantly improve the viability of this form of energy. To achieve this, the team is developing what they call an “anti-solar panel.”

Anti-Solar Panels

As made clear by their name, these anti-solar panels work in a way opposite to traditional ones. Whereas current versions draw energy coming from the sun, anti-solar panels use heat radiating off the Earth’s surface.

Traditional solar panels use photovoltaic to absorb photons from the sun’s radiation, which the system then uses to generate an electric charge. They can draw in this radiation because they’re cold compared to the sun. Since heat always moves to an area of lower temperature, it will pass into the solar panels.

Anti-solar panels work according to the same basic principle, but in reverse. Air grows colder at night, so heat radiates from the Earth’s surface — which warmed during the day — toward space. In a phenomenon known as radiative cooling, this heat radiates in the form of infrared light, which these new devices can use to generate electricity.

Radiative cooling is already in use in other applications. Researchers have looked into using the process to cool homes more sustainably. However, instead of moving heat to make an area more comfortable, anti-solar panels do it to harvest energy.

This process doesn’t equal the amount of energy generated during the day. The researchers estimate that the devices could produce around 25% of the electricity that traditional solar panels do in the day. While this number may seem small by itself, it represents a sizeable increase in energy overall, since current systems don’t operate at all during the night.

Anti-solar panels could increase solar farm energy production by 12%, according to the paper. As the technology develops, this number could grow. Even if it doesn’t, any rise in the efficiency of alternative energy can be advantageous.

Environmental Impact

If these anti-solar panels turn out to be as effective as the research suggests, it could have a significant impact on sustainability. Over the past few years, solar energy has become more viable, and this technology could give it another push toward practicality.

One of the most prevalent issues with solar power at the moment is that it’s relatively unreliable. A substantial part of that unreliability is due to the inability to generate electricity at night. Anti-solar panels could relieve that concern, making solar energy a more attractive option.

Human-produced greenhouse gases are a significant contributing factor in climate change. As alternative energy like solar power improves, it can reduce reliance on fossil fuels, protecting the environment. If solar panels can function at night, companies and individuals can use them to produce more energy that they otherwise might have used fossil fuels to create.

Industrial Impact

Nighttime solar energy could also impact the work of various industries. On top of making alternative energy a more practical option for businesses, it may allow those that are already environmentally conscious to expand their operations.

Some companies may already rely on solar power, but because of its limitations, they’ve needed to limit their processes. Solar panels that work even while the sun is down could allow them to take on more and varied tasks.

Construction crews can benefit from working at night, and anti-solar panels would make it possible for them to do so without relying on fossil fuels. With these devices, crews could work in more comfortable conditions while disturbing fewer people, all while receiving their power from a sustainable source.

Companies using traditionally gathered solar power may have to store energy to use at night, and this requires high-tech, expensive storage systems. Anti-solar panels would reduce the need for these costly batteries.

The Future of Solar Energy

It may be a while before anti-solar panels come to the market and see widespread use, but they still hold notable potential. Even small-scale adoption means an increase in sustainable energy usage. It’s unclear when the team behind them will produce a working prototype, but the research seems promising.

The UC Davis team isn’t the only group pursuing this technology, either. In November of 2019, Stanford University researchers published a paper over similar findings. With multiple groups of people researching the possibility of nighttime solar power, the technology might become available sooner than expected.

If nothing else, anti-solar panels may serve as a transitional technology. While the energy they generate isn’t equal to daytime solar panels, it’s still an increase that companies can take advantage of until more efficient devices come out.

There are still uncertainties about the viability of renewable energy, but findings like these are bringing the world closer to a sustainable future. For now, thanks to anti-solar panels and other improving technologies, the future of solar power looks bright.