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Scientists Turn Raindrops Into Electricity Using Solar Panels

Raindrops on solar panel

What do we need to make the smart grid the power network of the future that we dream of? We need better performance of renewable energy solutions, more efficient energy storage and higher individualisation of energy distribution. The first two can only be achieved through new technologies and better hardware, software as well as analytics. The last one can be pushed forward with another solution: through personal energy.

The most common technology which allows single households to produce their own energy are solar panels. However solar energy requires sun rays and in many regions throughout the world there is unfortunately more rain than sun which makes solar panels unfeasible.

A team of Chinese researchers wants to change this and works on a solution which could turn raindrops into electric power. The scientists from the Ocean University of China (Qingdao) and Yunnan Normal University (Kunming, China) have created a new solar panel which works during sunny weather as well as periods of rain.

The basis is formed by conventional thin-film photovoltaic cells that harness organic dye to absorb sunlight and produce electrons, thereby creating energy. On top of this dye-sensitised solar cell sits an electron-enriched graphene electrode which is used to create energy from rain.

Rain contains salt which separates into ions (ammonium, calcium and sodium) and therefore makes it a great combination with the graphene in order to produce energy. The raindrops cling to the one atom layer thin graphene forming a pseudo-capacitor with the graphene electrodes. When the water expands the contained cations (positively charged ions) drag the delocalised electrons along which charges the capacitor. The difference in potential between the two layers of the capacitor is significant enough to produce voltage and a current.

So far the research is still in the proof of concept stage with the efficiency of the panels being only 6,5% which is low compared to common solar panels offering a performance of around 22%. Nevertheless, if the scientists can improve the efficiency, this solution could shake up the solar industry as it would help people in areas without access to strong solar energy to get more independent of conventional power. This would further drive the need and adoption of smart grid technology in those regions.

You can read the full paper on the matter in the Angewandte Chemie journal here.

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