One of the drawbacks to solar panels is that they require sunlight to function properly. Rainy day? Happen to live in a rainy region, like say Seattle? Solar panels are not as effective in such climates. But scientists in China recently made a breakthrough, coating solar panels with a thin layer of graphene to produce electricity from falling rain.
The foundation of the solar panel is a pretty typical dye-sensitized solar panel featuring mostly conventional technology. The breakthrough comes from a very thin layer of graphene that is coated onto the top of the solar panel. The water and graphene interact, with the water itself becoming enriched with positive ions while the graphene becomes enriched with delocalized negative ions, which creates electricity.
Once the voltage and current are generated, it’s just a matter of collecting the electricity and putting it to use. While this marks a major breakthrough, the amount of electricity currently being generated is minimal, only hundreds of microvolts. Meanwhile, the solar panel itself has an efficiency rating of only 6.53%, well below industry norms. As a result, this technology is a long, long way from being practically useful, but regardless it marks a major breakthrough.
The breakthrough was made at Ocean University of China, in collaboration with Yunnan Normal University. Ocean University is the leading marine research institute in China, and one of the leading research institutes in the world. Even for such a prestigious institute, however, this breakthrough accounts as major.
While the technology itself is still a long way from reaching the commercial stage, if efficiency improves “all-weather” solar panels may soon be a thing. If so, the use of solar panels could spread to new regions where current climate conditions have previously restrained the use of solar panels.
For now, however, much work remains to be done in improving the efficiency of the actual solar panel before it is commercially viable.