The more efficient, affordable, and available solar panels become, the higher their demand in commercial, industrial, and even ordinary residential settings. The technology is helping reduce reliance on fossil fuels. But there’s one drawback that has not been overcome—photovoltaic cells need direct sunlight to convert into power. When it’s overcast or the sun has set, solar panels can no longer produce energy.
Night solar panels, or NSPs, are a recent development intended to overcome this challenge. And an important one at that, especially during darker winter months and in areas that see less sunlight overall. They can, at least theoretically, increase solar energy output in a wide range of applications.
How Night Solar Panels Generate Power at Night
The only natural light after sunset typically comes from the moon and stars. Could we in fact capture light energy from the moon. The moon doesn’t emit light; it merely reflects it from the sun. However, the night solar panels under development work in a different way.
Traditional solar cells absorb sunlight, generating a voltage and allowing current to flow. Researchers have explored the concept of Nighttime Photovoltaic Cells that reverses how solar energy generation has worked since its inception. Conventional solar panels are cold. They process radiation from the sun. The reverse would be for night solar panels to emit the radiation via infrared light; the current and voltage would flow in the opposite direction compared to a conventional system.
Different materials would be needed. The system will generate power by creating electron-hole pairs in space. Under the present theory, the panels would be less powerful than the solar panels now on the market. However, they could work over a longer duration. If they could generate power 24 hours a day, and utilize energy left over from industrial processes, experts believe NSPs could hypothetically help pursue and achieve carbon neutrality.
The technology and process are explained in a research paper by Tristan Deppe and Jeremy N. Munday of the University of California Davis. Nighttime Photovoltaic Cells: Electrical Power Generation by Optically Coupling with Deep Space explores the topic in greater detail.
Where NSPs Stand in Providing Green Power
A prototype developed by Munday and his colleagues worked but generated just a quarter of the power that traditional solar panels do.1 It’s believed by many they could be designed to fit on a roof while producing carbon-free power when linked to waste-free power and waste heat sources. The next step is to integrate NSPs into a functional setting. It could be a while before they appear on the global market, but solar power is advancing rapidly. The development process can therefore proceed faster than expected.
Night solar panels would theoretically work best in areas where there’s a high rate of annual daily sunshine hours. That would benefit developing countries that meet this parameter, especially with the low cost, ease of installation, and long lifespan of solar panels. The potential use of night solar panels in remote areas is also being explored.
In areas with less sunshine, and that experience long, dark winters, the power bills can be more costly. Solar panels that could generate power after sunset may benefit remote villages in Alaska, Greenland, or even stations in Antarctica. Increases in battery capability in the coming years could address some installation challenges, while factors such as large wildlife and extreme weather will have to be dealt with too.
How Can I Invest in Solar Power Right Now?
It remains to be seen whether NSPs will catch up to conventional solar power sooner than expected. And it’s not likely we’ll be drawing power from the moon anytime soon. But you can start saving on monthly utility bills by installing rooftop solar panels for your home or business. Implementing a solar installation has its challenges. But Sunworks USA can provide a custom solution and manage the entire process, from design and procurement to permitting, to construction, operation, and maintenance. To learn more about our solutions, process, and comprehensive warranty, call 866-600-6800 today.