Innovation: New Solar Panels Can Generate Electricity at Night

A new journal in ACS Photonics, publisher of the University of California, Davis, states that “anti-solar plates” can generate solar energy at night.

Solar panels collect heat from the sun and produce energy. When a screen is shown in the night toward the sun, the unseen infrarot light on Sun can be seen. The paper argues that an anti-solar panel could provide approximately 25% of the night electricity generated by a solar panel.

The nighttime device uses a thermoradiative cell to generate electricity, and it has to be made of something that can capture extremely long-wavelength light. The UC Davis team is working on prototypes, and considering mercury alloys.

Jeremy Munday, an author of the paper and a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UC Davis, told Inverse:

You have heat energy coming from the sun toward the Earth, and that normal solar cell picks off that energy as it’s transmitted from the sun to the Earth, so basically you need these two different temperature bodies and some way of converting that power.

What this nighttime device does is a similar sort of thing — where it’s just taking a hot body and a cold body — but now the relatively hot body is the Earth and space is the cold body. As this heat is flowing from the Earth to outer space, it’s picking that off and converting that into power.

Here’s the study’s abstract:

Photovoltaics possess significant potential due to the abundance of solar power incident on Earth; however, they can only generate electricity during daylight hours. In order to produce electrical power after the sun has set, we consider an alternative photovoltaic concept that uses the Earth as a heat source and the night sky as a heat sink, resulting in a ‘nighttime photovoltaic cell’ that employs thermoradiative photovoltaics and concepts from the advancing field of radiative cooling. In this Perspective, we discuss the principles of thermoradiative photovoltaics, the theoretical limits of applying this concept to coupling with deep space, the potential of advanced radiative cooling techniques to enhance their performance, and a discussion of the practical limits, scalability, and integrability of this nighttime photovoltaic concept.

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