The Future of Solar: Hybrid Systems Draw Energy at Night
Solar Panels of the Future Draw Energy at Night
Sunshine and solar energy go hand in hand, but future generations of photovoltaic systems would generate a significant amount of energy during nighttime. New research into the capabilities of next-generation photovoltaic cells is generating excitement, as experts in renewable energy have increasingly come to believe that hybrid systems operating at night could soon become a reality in many parts of the world.
The Conventional Approach to Solar
Traditional solar panels utilize photovoltaic cells that absorb light from the sun and convert it into DC electricity. Solar inverters convert the DC electricity into AC electricity, which can then be used throughout businesses or homes. Energy from the sun is paramount to the use of conventional solar panels, and until recently, the idea of being able to generate solar power during the nighttime hours seemed impossible to many.
Worldwide interest in solar energy is on the rise, with new solar farms going up and more developing nations investing in these types of renewable energy sources. According to the SEIA/Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables U.S. Solar Market Insight report, the United States solar market installed just over 5 GWdc of solar capacity in the first quarter of 2021, which was a 46% increase over the first quarter of 2020. Cumulative solar capacity in the U.S. is expected to pass 100 GWac next year.
The next generation of solar systems appears to be turning traditional notions upside down. Solar panels of the future could soon generate energy during the darkest hours in areas of the world with higher-than-average hours of daily light.
Hybrid Systems Generate Energy at Night
Solar systems that operate at night are closer to reality than most people realize. Hybrid systems that utilize conventional solar panels and a newer type of nighttime solar panel are on the path to become the most common type of system to be installed at residential and commercial projects.
Nighttime solar panels, also known as anti-solar panels, use the night sky as a sort of heat sink. The earth, then, becomes the heat source. Like conventional solar panels, these night solar panels would rely on photovoltaic cells to generate energy. However, unlike conventional solar panels, night solar panels take advantage of cooler nighttime temperatures and emit radiation through infrared to create electron-hole pairs in space. Whereas conventional solar panels absorb sunlight, night solar panels emit light, so the current and the voltage go in an opposite direction.
Night solar panels use different methods and materials than conventional solar panels, clearly, but the fundamental physics behind these two types of systems is very much the same.
Night Solar Panels: A Green Solution?
In addition to generating more energy during previously untapped hours, night solar panels are also considered to be ¡°greener¡± than many other energy alternatives. These panels produce carbon-free power, so commercial and residential clients can generate even more energy with less waste.
Another aspect that makes night solar desirable for those wanting green energy solutions has to do with the longevity of the panels themselves. Solar panels last for decades under normal conditions, with minimal maintenance. Additionally, battery capabilities are expanding and growth in the market could lead to vast improvements within the next two to three years.
How are we likely to see anti-solar panels used in the real world? At least in the beginning, there will be great demand for night solar panels in developing nations with more hours of daily sunshine. These hot, sunny climates are the ideal locations to develop early prototypes. Other aspects that make anti-solar panels a technology well suited for communities in developing nations are the comparatively low cost of installation and the long-term nature of these installations. Solar panels have much longer lifespans than competing energy solutions, even in remote areas.
Anti-solar panels may not be the ideal solution, at least not immediately, in areas with extreme winter weather, such as Antarctica and Alaska. Large animals could also pose a threat to anti-solar panels. In these communities, conventional solar panels with larger battery storage systems would likely deliver more desirable results.
Early Anti-Solar Panel Prototypes
While there is plenty to be optimistic about when it comes to the future ability to generate solar electricity at night, plenty of work remains to be done before anti-solar panels go mainstream. Early prototypes of this type of panel generated roughly 25% of the power of conventional solar panels. Considering anti-solar panels operate at night, these results are not unexpected. However, engineers will still need to conduct additional research before night solar panels become commonplace.
Thankfully, governments around the world are showing great enthusiasm for this technology and the opportunities it could soon provide. In the United States, President Joe Biden has pushed for greater investment into renewable energy sources. As more political leaders take similar stances and prioritize solar energy on a national level, development in this space will likely take off. Commercial engineers and project managers who took a forward-leaning stance on night solar power and similar products are likely to see their investments pay dividends when this technology goes mainstream.