Since solar cells require sunlight to produce energy, it’s logical that they can’t harness it at night. So, do solar panels work at night at all?
The answer to this question is a little more complicated than you might think, but we are happy to answer it. We will also look at some of the latest technology in nighttime solar panels. Stay tuned to learn more!
Learn in This Article
- How Do Solar Panels Work at Night
- Storing Energy in Batteries
- Net Metering
- Do Solar Panels Work at Night by Harnessing Moonlight
- The Future of Solar Energy: Night-Time Solar Cells
- How Much Power Do Solar Panels That Work at Night Produce
How Do Solar Panels Work at Night
As you probably know, solar panels work by converting sunlight energy into electricity through photovoltaic solar cells. Don’t forget to check our other article if you want to know how solar panels work and how they’re made.
Solar cells only produce electricity when exposed to light: in the daytime. This means they are less productive on overcast days and don’t create any electricity at night. However, solar panels don’t stop working at night, figuratively speaking. They can still power your home indirectly through energy storage. So, how is solar energy stored for use at night?
Storing Energy in Batteries
The most efficient way to store solar energy is by using solar batteries. Batteries can store the surplus electricity from your solar panels and release it when there is no sunlight. You can use the electricity stored in batteries to power your home at night, on cloudy days, or during a power outage.
Solar batteries are usually made of lead acid, saltwater, or lithium-ion. Lead batteries are cheaper, but they are not as efficient as lithium-ion batteries. The latter option is more expensive, but it lasts longer (can handle more charges and discharges) and is more efficient. The subtype of lithium batteries is lithium iron phosphate batteries, which are considered to be the safest.
Disclaimer: This isn’t technically considered a “solar panel nightwork,” but it’s a clever way to have electricity at night. Let’s explain!
Net metering allows you to send the electricity produced by your solar array back to the grid and receive credit toward the electricity (from the grid) you’ll be using at night.
Net metering is ideal if you don’t have battery storage (and if your utility company offers it, of course). This way, the grid is your storage. Plus, if you perform this juggling act correctly, you may be able to have a power bill of zero dollars.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night by Harnessing Moonlight
Scientists are working on ways to make solar panels work at night by harnessing moonlight. Moonbeams are much weaker than sunlight, and scientists argue they can’t produce sufficient energy to power solar cells. It’s determined that they produce energy at a mere ratio of 345:1. To put things into perspective, a panel that produces 3,450 watts during the day generates only 10 watts at night.
It’s easy to understand why making these solar panels would neither be practical nor profitable. Will this type of solar module ever get launched, and how will it look? It’s yet to be seen.
How Much Power Do Solar Panels That Work at Night Produce
Prototypes for the new solar panels that work at night aren’t yet strong enough to power the entire home, but they’ve generated enough energy to charge devices such as cell phones and LED lights.
The Future of Solar Energy: Night-Time Solar Cells (Prototype)
While some scientists focus on creating solar panels that charge in moonlight, others strive to further the concept of new solar panels that work at night by producing electricity from temperature differences.
In 2020, at the University of California, Prof Jeremy created and named anti-solar cells that work “in reverse.” How exactly do these nighttime solar cells work?
At night, the earth releases heat into the atmosphere, and so do the solar panels (and other machinery). That way, the solar panel becomes a thermal radiator. So, these solar panels that work at night harness the infrared light or the heat that escapes the earth.
Scientists from other universities, such as Stanford and the University of New South Wales, are also finding ways to utilize this phenomenon.
These anti-solar cells are still in the development phase, and we can’t expect the solar panels that work in the dark to enter commercial production any time soon. Nevertheless, we can already imagine how beneficial they’d be in areas with lots of clouds and little sunlight. They could also provide a 100% off-grid transition.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night: Our Takeaway
Solar energy is a far superior source of power to traditional energy technologies. Solar panels may generate electricity, but they only function when there is enough sunshine. Do solar panels work at night, then? Solar energy can be stored for later use by utilizing batteries or net metering. With scientists working on ways to make solar panels function at night by tapping into moonlight and thermodynamics, the future of solar energy looks very bright.