May

21

New Solar Panels Sweat to Cool Themselves

solar panels

One of the pain points for solar panels is that they don’t work well when overheated. Groundbreaking research can resolve the scenario soon. 

Researchers have found a way to make solar panels sweat, allowing them to cool, and increasing their power output. Liangbing Hu, a materials scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park states that the method is effective to retrofit solar cell panes for an instant efficient boost.

Due to this research, the capacity of solar power is expected to increase fivefold over the next decade. Currently, it is over 600 gigawatts of solar power capacity, providing 3% of global electricity demand. The preferred medium of converting sunlight to electricity is still silicon. However, the typical silicon cells can convert around 20% of the Sun’s energy that hits them into the current. The rest typically turns into heat, so the panels can warm as much as 40°C (104°F). The efficiency of the panel drops with every degree of temperature above 25°C (77°F). Jun Zhou, a materials scientist at Huazhong University of Science and Technology states that even a 1% gain in power conversion efficiency would be an economic boon. 

Recently, researchers have devised materials that can suck water vapour from the air and condense it into liquid water for drinking. Among these, there is a gel that strongly absorbs water vapour at night and releases it in the day as heat rises. When further covered by plastic, the released vapour is then condensed back into liquid water and collected into a container.

The researcher team decided to use this collected water as a coolant for the solar panels. To achieve this, the team pressed a sheet of the gel against the underside of a standard silicon solar panel. They hoped that during the day, the gel would use the heat from the solar panel to evaporate water it had collected the previous night.

Peng Wang, an environmental engineer at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and his colleagues thought of another use for the condensed water – coolant for solar panels. The evaporating water would cool the solar panel quite analogous to sweat evaporating from the skin and cooling us down. The researchers found that the amount of gel they needed depended chiefly on the environment’s humidity. 

Another design option, Wang suggested was a setup that could trap and recondense water after it evaporated from the gel. The solution could solve a second power-sapping problem at the same time. Alternatively, that same water could be stored for drinking, addressing another desperate need in arid regions.

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