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Energy

14: A solar cell that works at night

Problem:

Solar cells cannot function at night.

Solution:

Jeremy Munday and Tristan Deppe at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California Davis have developed a thermoradiative cell which generates electrical current as it radiates infrared light (heat) toward the night sky and extreme cold of deep space.

ACS Photonics, a publication of the American Chemical Society, says of the illustration at the top of this solution “The Perspective featured depicts a nighttime photovoltaic device that generates power by looking up at the night sky, behaving like a solar cell in reverse.”

The abstract of the research paper on the cell says:

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.

Such a cell could generate up to 50 watts of power per square meter under ideal conditions at night, about a quarter of what a conventional solar panel can generate in daytime.

Jeremy Munday and Tristan Deppe, “Nighttime Photovoltaic Cells: Electrical Power Generation by Optically Coupling with Deep Space,” ACS Photonics January 7, 2020.

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