Success Stories of Sustainability: Solar Panels that Work at Night!

CNet

Sep 20, 2022

A modified solar panel developed by researchers at Stanford University is capable of generating electricity at night or in cloudy conditions by using a process called radiative cooling to allow for 24-hour renewable energy generation.

Electricity demand is rising day by day. All the comforts afforded by energy such as suitable heating and cooling also come with proportionately high electricity bills. In the next 10 years, we can expect an electricity bill that will be 2-3 times higher than now. According to people's lifestyle, almost every home will have an air conditioner, electric cycle, bike & scooter. As of today, the power consumption of homes is 40% during the daytime and 60% at night time.


With growing demand, businesses and sustainability professionals worked relentlessly to achieve their ‘Mission Possible’ across the campaign’s five key pillars – energy, resources, infrastructure, mobility, and business leadership.


Renewable energy critics commonly point out that its generation is irregular and that it requires certain weather conditions. To overcome this challenge, the Stanford University team in California has created an “Anti-Solar Panel – this is the future” modified solar panel capable of generating electricity at night or in cloudy conditions that use a process called radiative cooling to allow for 24-hour renewable energy generation. The panels are modified so as to not radiate heat at night. However, they are cooler than the night air, and the temperature gradient is exploited to generate electricity.


The modified panel generated 50 milliwatts per square meter which is less power at night than during the day, this can be a blessing for low-power devices. One panel of one square meter could power a phone charger or LED light, charging devices, and keeping sensors and monitoring equipment online.. "We tend to think of the sun as an important renewable energy resource," but "The coldness of outer space is also an extremely important renewable energy resource," a researcher says.


When an object is facing the sky at night, the object can become cooler than the air temperature around it. This effect could have obvious applications in cooling technology for buildings, but the difference in temperature can also be used to drive the generation of electricity.


“The nice aspect about this approach is that you essentially have a direct power source at night that does not require any battery storage,” says researcher Shanhui Fan. Hence the maintenance is also low cost compared to battery storage. This development will be a big help to people living in underdeveloped areas that are completely off the grid without traditional power. The new panels are very easy to fabricate as well. The only drawback is that the panels aren’t very effective on cloudy nights.


The ability to run an LED light or a phone charger in the middle of the night may not seem ground breaking to most people in the developed world, but it can make a huge impact on the quality of life for people living in secluded areas with little access to electricity. Further, this is just the beginning. Traditional solar panels have seen significant cost reductions and tremendous improvements in efficiency over the past few decades. Who knows what the future looks like for this novel technology?


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