Power Producing Raindrops: The Add-On For Solar That Could Actually Work

You might think it a little odd to be talking of rain when we’re still in the middle of the biggest heatwave since 1976. While most of us are trying to stay cool and our solar panels are working overtime like never before, rain is at the forefront of the mind of some scientists in China.

A little reported and potentially exciting development may well be on the cards. And it involves nanotechnology.

China, who have lead the way in solar over recent times, has started experimenting with panels that not only collect and transform the power of the sun but also have the ability to turn raindrops into electricity. Intrigued? While the research is in its early stages, many believe that the developing technology offers huge potential.

The problem with solar panels, as we all know, is that they only produce electricity when the sun is shining. Once night falls, they go to sleep. While most experts are waiting on the further development of storage batteries in order to partway solve the problem, there’s plenty of other innovation going on.

To understand how rain can turned into power, you first have to accept the existence of the triboelectric nanogenerator or TENG. Not the sort of thing that trips lightly off the tongue but it works in a similar way to kinetic energy sources that have been explored in the past, including paths that produce electricity as you walk on them.

Nanogenerators are useful because they are able to convert movement into electricity that can be used to power things. A team of researchers at Soochow University in China have managed to incorporate this TENG technology into some solar panels and published their findings in ACS Nano.

What they produced was a solar panel that is able to produce electricity when it’s sunny but which can also deliver an output while the rain is falling.

According to Science Alert recently:

“The next challenge is increasing the amount of electricity that can be generated to make this commercially viable. However, the concept has been proven, and that’s an important first step – harvesting even a small amount of electricity during a rain shower has to be better than harvesting nothing at all.”

As with many new developments, however, one big issue is going to be the cost. The technology hasn’t yet got to the stage where it can be mass produced for a low manufacturing price and sold commercially. That could take a while, at least a few years before we see these products on the market.

The next big development could well be solar panels that are able to provide power during rainy days. By then, we should have developed the battery technology that will allow us to store electricity overnight.

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