Rain-powered Energy Discovered By Chinese Scientists To Increase Solar Panel Efficiency

Rain-powered energy has arrived to solve the conundrum of what to do when your house is all prepped up with solar gear and the day is overcast. Although solar technology has evolved over the years into a sophisticated animal, more adroit at collecting the sun’s power for conversion to usable energy, the show comes to a grinding halt when it’s raining.

According to Fox News, scientists from Ocean University of China and Yunnan Normal University, have come up with rain-powered all-weather solar cells to solve the energy crisis by combining an electron-enriched graphene electrode with a dye-sensitized solar cell stimulated by light and rain drops.

Dye-sensitized solar cells are thin-film photovoltaic cells that harness organic dye to absorb sunlight and produce electrons, and react with rainfall thereby creating rain-powered energy.

Girl in rain
Girl gets full measure of bountiful Beijing rain (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)

Ocean University of China Professor Qunwei Tang, the paper’s lead author, configured dye-sensitized solar cells –which are thin-film photovoltaic cells that harness organic dye — to absorb sunlight and produce electrons, and can be rain-powered for energy production.

Commonly used solar panels generate the most energy on clear, sunny days, and produce 10 to 25 percent less electricity under overcast conditions. What the Chinese have come up with are rain-powered all-weather panels that can create energy regardless of weather.

The key ingredient in the redesigned solar panel is the “electron-enriched graphene” added to the top layer. This ultra sensitive feature allows the panel surface to react with ions in the rain-drops and generate rain-powered energy.

The technology is break-through, in its prototype stage of development, and still has to reach the efficiency level of the top solar panels in the market. The rain-powered panels can currently convert about 6.5 percent of the energy they absorb, whereas today’s top-of-the-line solar panels can convert up to 22.5 percent.

Certainly the team from the Ocean University of China (Qingdao) and Yunnan Normal University (Kunming, China) deserves credit for improving the way solar panels work by means of a highly efficient dye-sensitized solar cell. Coating this cell with a whisper-thin film of graphene to allow rain to produce electricity is ground-breaking, powered by results, to be treated accordingly by the alternative-energy sector.

With its atoms bonded into a honeycomb arrangement, graphene is a two-dimensional form of carbon created by the oxidation, exfoliation, and subsequent reduction of graphite. Unusual electronic properties allow graphene to conduct electricity. What makes graphene bind positively charged ions with its electrons is the abundance of electrons that can move freely across the treated layer, for rain-powered energy creation.

Qunwei Tang’s use of graphene electrodes to obtain rain-powered energy, works because raindrops are not pure water. The chemical reaction results in a double-layer made of electrons and positively charged ions, a state called “pseudocapacitor.” This phenomenon brings about a voltage and current.

Solar panels in China
Installers lay more roof panels in energy-conscious China (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

According to Clean Technica, an all-weather solar cell would lead to cost-effective solar installations in rainy regions, including many parts of the United States. The beauty about a rain-powered energy system is that rain removes dust and debris from the surface of solar panels, providing an integrated clean-up service to keep them in good shape during sunny weather.

Senior research scientist and adjunct professor at Columbia University Vasilis Fthenakis told Fox News that the Chinese rain-powered discovery could be used in climates not typically associated with strong solar energy. He explained how it all works out if the technology’s additional costs and potential solar cell optical losses do not exceed the benefits of rain-harvested energy.

“The dye-sensitized cells where this is applied are not the type of technology that would be deployed globally as a replacement of conventional energy; they have applications mostly in diffuse-light applications, not in the high sun regions.”

Rain-powered energy is in its embryonic stage with much growth potential ahead.

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]