In recent years, there’s been plenty of talk around solar energy and how it can potentially solve the power problems of today’s world.
For some time now, the idea of trapping and harnessing the energy of the sun to generate electricity that can power cities and countries have seemed like the future of global energy. And for many, it doesn’t get better than that.
But maybe it does. Perhaps the future of global power generation is not only about harnessing the sun’s energy. Maybe the future is also about harnessing the energy of “the element that takes over the planet once the sun goes down” — darkness!
Yes, there’s plenty happening around trapping sunlight during the day and converting the energy to usable forms. But who says darkness can’t be put to use too? After all, there’s much of it at night as there is sunlight during the daytime.
Actually, there’s some work going on in that regard and a group of researchers at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, have developed a new system that can harness the energy in darkness and generate electricity from it.
Some have dubbed their creation the “anti-solar panel.” And the study has been published in the scientific journal, Joule.
Of all the many different kinds of solar panels in existence, the one most commonly used is a type that generates electricity from the sun through a physical process called the photovoltaic (PV) effect. Such solar panels work such that when light is focused on certain materials, it generates an electric current.
There’s another type of solar panel that generates electricity from heat through thermal processes – when the sun is hotter and Earth is cooler, and the difference in temperature can be converted into usable energy.
It is this second mode of solar energy generation that the “energy-from-darkness” researchers have exploited for their innovation, though with some unique modifications.
While thermal solar panels use the heat difference between the sun and Earth, with the Earth being the cooler side, the newly built anti-solar system makes use of the heat difference between the coolness of the night atmosphere and the Earth, with the Earth being the hotter side.
Thus, the device is able to produce electricity from the darkness of night. Technically.
The researchers have only tested their system with a very small prototype. The device was a 20-centimeter (8-inch) aluminium disk painted black and hooked up to commercial thermoelectricity generators.
It successfully created enough energy to power a single small LED lightbulb–a small success obviously, but with huge potential.
There’s also the possibility of the device acting in reverse during the daytime, absorbing sunlight and producing electricity from heat traveling from the sun to the disk and into the outside environment. Essentially, a system that makes the most of both sunlight during the day and pitch-blackness at night.
For now, the anti-solar device is still miles behind the energy-harvesting abilities of a solar panel but considering the technology is still only in the R&D stage, the end results could prove a gamechanger.
The researchers are already working on improvements including enhanced insulation around the top plate that could potentially raise the device’s energy production to 0.5 watts per square meter or more, and this is just for starters.
A bigger, refined, and better-designed version of this nighttime generator could someday power homes in struggling communities that lack nighttime electricity.
The anti-solar systems currently under development are a lot cheaper to build and they can generate electricity at a time solar panels can’t.
The “light-from-darkness’ system could potentially transform the renewable energy sector by filling the gap that solar energy can’t cover. This might be the case once the researchers are able to refine the system to produce anywhere close to as much energy as a standard solar panel.
Featured Image Courtesy: Stanford News
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