New Strides in Gathering Solar Power at Night!

May 12, 2022

An April 2022 publication in the Applied Letters in Physics notes that new research from Stanford University is gaining way to obtain solar energy from nighttime skies. By modifying commercial-grade solar panels, researchers were able to harvest a small amount of electricity at night through a process called radiative cooling.

“We tend to think of the sun as the important renewable energy resource,” said Shanhui Fan, the lead researcher. Adding, “The coldness of outer space is also an extremely important renewable energy resource.”

Though they were not specifically searching for this, Shanhui Fan and his team found that radiative cooling generates solar electricity at night based on the temperature difference between the solar cells (of the panels) and its surroundings.

The Stanford team constructed a photovoltaic cell that harvests energy from the atmosphere 24/7, avoiding the need for storage batteries. While only a small amount of energy was harnessed at night compared to daytime, the results are impressive and warrant further research.

At night, solar panels facing the sky radiate the heat they gathered back out to space, making them cooler than the air temperature around them. This effect could have positive applications in cooling buildings, but the difference found here is how this temperature change can potentially generate a significant amount of electricity.

Sill in its infancy, if these findings gain future practical applications, it’s exciting to know that it can easily be deployed as the modifications were made to standard commercial solar panels. Improvements in design are still required, but the idea of using outer space as a renewable energy source is interesting, to say the least. These findings are another great step in obtaining alternative sources of clean energy.

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