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Hybrid Solar Panels Now Produce Energy Come Rain or Shine

The rise of solar power

There is no denying that solar power has become a dominant player in the energy market. Over the last couple of years, solar power growth has leapt by 50% worldwide with solar costs dropping faster than experts could have predicted.

According to the latest data from PV market analysts SunWiz, Australia had a record-smashing 1.25GW of solar installed in 2017, making it the biggest year for the market in Australia ever.

SunWiz-chart-1

Image: SunWiz

The development of solar panel technology has had a huge contributing factor in this growth; solar manufacturers are continuously improving the design of their products to raise efficiency and reduce costs.

There has always been one significant factor holding solar technology back in certain markets, however, and that is the lack of variability of the panels.

Despite what some believe solar energy can still be collected during cloudy and rainy days, although, the efficiency of the solar system drops significantly to one-tenth of the potential output.

Now, due to the development of a new hybrid solar system, this challenge could soon be a concern of the past.

How the technology works

In a remarkable step forward, scientists from Soochow University in China have figured out a way to create a hybrid solar panel that can generate energy from both the sun and raindrops.

The key part of the system is a triboelectric nanogenerator or TENG, a device that creates electric charge from the friction of two materials rubbing together. In this case, the motion of the raindrops moving across the panels.

The concept of using TENGs is not completely new but developing a system that isn’t too complicated or heavy has been a challenge. This new system uses two polymer layers to make a TENG on top of a photovoltaic cell.

Using imprints from DVDs, such as the ones that we use at home, the researchers added slits to one polymer to improve its efficiency in gathering energy. The textured layers acted as a mutual electrode for both the TENG and the solar panel underneath in tests. Energy is then conducted between the two devices when raindrops fall and bring the layers in contact.

Extra polymer layers generate power from raindrops (Soochow University)

The future of hybrid solar panels

The capabilities of the technology are huge, with the opportunity to produce energy during all hours of the day and providing a huge boost to the potential of renewable energy.

There is still a long way to go in the development of the technology; rainfall currently doesn’t produce as much energy as the sun and the extra layers of the panels make them less efficient when capturing sunlight.

The next challenge in the development of the technology will be concerned with increasing the amount of electricity that can be generated to make it commercially viable.

It has been suggested that there is still around 3 to 5 years before a prototype is developed, however, the fact that the concept has been proven is a great leap forward for the solar industry.

 

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