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New solar panels are powered by both sunshine and rain

Researchers at Soochow University in China are developing new solar panels that can be powered even when there is no sunshine available. The technology exploits solar power as well as energy produced from the friction of rain.

The mechanism is designed to keep power running even when it may normally fail during a downpour, and the experts believe it may be ultimately used to generate power to devices worn in raincoats. The new creation harnesses the energy of falling raindrops to make electricity.

The prototype consists of a transparent nanogenerator attached to a silicon solar cell, which contributes an extra layer of power for more consistency in varying weather conditions.

Although previous studies have demonstrated that a conventional silicon solar cell and a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG) could be connected using an extra wire, the researchers in the current study took a new approach to merging the two energy sources.

Study co-author Zhen Wen told

“The biggest breakthrough in this work is that an integrated generator composed of a solar cell and a TENG was demonstrated through sharing a mutual electrode.”

“Compared to previous work, the simple design of the mutual electrode reduces the number of functional layers, which greatly improves the output efficiency.”

The TENG provides protection from weather damage by acting as a waterproof layer over the solar cell. At this point, the scientists are still trying to find a way that TENG and the solar cell can capture energy at the same time.

“Due to the design of the mutual electrode, the solar cell and nanogenerator cannot work together,” explained Wen. “So if there is a sunshower (sunshine and raindrops appearing at the same time), we have to give up one function of the hybrid generator. But I don’t think that is often the case.”

The new, dual-action solar panels may ultimately become an efficient way to  generate power, replacing harmful energy sources such as oil and gas.

The study is published in the journal ACS Nano.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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