Solar cell generates power from rain, could solve Britain’s energy needs

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A new type of solar panel technology capable of turning rain into electricity is being developed by scientists in China.

Solar energy panels that can also generate power from raindrops have been been designed, offering a possible solution for UK homeowners looking to invest in renewable energy.

The all-weather solar panels that can create electricity from light on sunny days and rain on cloudy days could be the perfect solution for the UK where on average it rains about 42 per cent of the year, equivalent to 33.7 inches of rainfall.

Currently solar panels generate the most energy on clear, sunny days, and produce 10 to 25 per cent less electricity on cloudy ones. Designed by researchers in China, the all-weather panels work in both.

According to a paper published in the Angewandte Chemie journal, the technology combines an electron-enriched graphene electrode with a dye-sensitized solar cell that can be triggered by both sun and rain.

The solution addresses a long-standing caveat of solar panels in that they only provide optimal energy output on sunny days.

The paper, written by Ocean University of China professors Qunwei Tang, Xiaopeng Wang, Peizhi Yang and Benlin He, claims the new development could help advance the development of “all-weather solar cells”.

The all-weather solar panels have a top layer made from “electron-enriched graphene” that reacts with ions in the rain to generate energy.

The technology isn’t perfect, and it is a lot less efficient than the top solar panels available at the moment. The rain panels convert about 6.5 per cent of the energy they receive, whereas the world’s best solar panels can convert up to 22.5 per cent.

In countries such as the UK, where sunny days are limited in number though, the all-weather solar cells could still be a viable renewable energy option.

While the rain-powered cells are only a working concept at the moment, rather than a marketable product, the researchers suggest it can inform future designs.

“The new concept can guide the design of advanced all-weather solar cells,” said the study.

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Photo Credit: Andreas Lea from Flickr.

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