While trying to do the impossible might seem like magical thinking, in many cases, it is simply science that hasn’t broken through yet. In the case of solar panels, it might seem counterintuitive to try to use them at night. This too, though, has been proven possible.
An engineering team from Stanford University has developed solar cells that can draw power at night.
Solar energy in the dark
While the Stanford solar cell can draw only a small amount of energy during the night, this development offers the potential for solar panels that are always drawing energy.
The key is a thermoelectric generator that can take energy from the small difference in temperature between the ambient air and the solar cell itself.
“Our approach can provide nighttime standby lighting and power in off-grid and mini-grid applications, where [solar] cell installations are gaining popularity,” the team reported.
A mini-grid is a smaller and independent energy network. This can benefit people farther away from the main grid which would provide them with backup energy.
This breakthrough comes as solar panels and installation have become much more affordable across the country, with new incentives and tax benefits being offered to businesses and homeowners. Now, for those with lower incomes or living far away from major population centers, renewable solar energy is becoming a much more viable option.