Environment Technology

Future Solar Panels Will Generate Energy From Raindrops

Rain Solar Panels

A new solar cell prototype developed by a team of scientists in Qingdao, China may change the way we use solar panels in the not so distant future.

Solar panel technology has changed the way many people bring energy into their homes, but this type of technology has always posed one concern: panels cannot output optimal power without ideal weather conditions. When you have rainy days or a lot of cloud cover, there is only so much energy that panels can store for later use. While engineers and material scientists have been able to make their efficiency far better over the years, with solar panels that store decent amounts of energy to be used when sun is not readily available, there has never quite been a development like the one discovered this year.

Chinese scientists are now able to create electricity with the assistance of raindrops. This is thanks to a thin layer of graphene they use to coat their solar cells during testing. Graphene is known for its conductivity, among many other benefits. All it takes is a mere one-atom thick graphene layer for an excessive amount of electrons to move as they wish across the surface. In situations where water is present, graphene binds its electrons with positively charged ions. Some of you may know this process to be called as the Lewis acid-base interaction.

These new solar cells can be stimulated by incident light on sunny days and raindrops when it’s raining, yielding an optimal energy conversion efficiency of 6.53 % under 1.5 atmosphere thickness irradiation and current over µA, along with a voltage of hundreds of mV by simulated raindrops.

The salt contained in rain separates into ions (ammonium, calcium and sodium), making graphene and natural water a great combination for creating energy. The water actually clings to the graphene, forming a dual layer (AKA pseudocapacitor) with the graphene electrons. The energy difference between these layers is so strong that it generates electricity.

These new all-weather solar cells are discussed in depth in the Angewandte Chemie journal.

  • Solar is a logical, long-term solution to us burning fossil fuels which if you think about it is comparatively short-sighted. I’m glad we are going in the right direction as a society.

    • Valfreyja

      That’s nice, except wrong. Until there is a modern battery technology that is high capacity and safe for mass residential usage there is literally 0 alternative outside of nuclear. Energy collection has never been our problem.

      • James

        I’m not so sure energy collection has never been our problem, renewables have always given out not quite enough oomph I think. Nuclear energy is awesome but so expensive, not that it’s not worth it but it’s hard to convince countries to go for it or even find the funds for it

      • bensemus x

        Nuclear is good but reactors take 20+ years to make and our current ones are using very old tech. The public has an irrational fear of nuclear that might be too hard to overcome.

      • Gavin Gamache

        A short-term drawback does not make it less of a long-term solution.

        • MR AWESOME

          Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the actual figures. A “short term” drawback of each megawatt factory costing an extra 1 billion dollars and needing to be replaced every 10 years would.

          The Economically sound way will always be the Economically sound way, no matter how many people think otherwise.

          If you are all for putting excise taxes for the amount of pollution that results and forcing the choosing actors to pay for negative externalities and the “true cost” for fossil fuels; I am with you.

          If you are for arbitrary limits, etcetera, chosen by committee or enforced by government then I am against you.

          Free Markets are like evolution: and the strong survives and adapts. That’s my fear, that our groups will fear pollution (etcetera) so much that they abandon something capable of understanding the exact prices and benefits and move towards totalitarianism instead.

          • Gavin Gamache

            Bringing externalities into the market via – for example – pollution credit auctions is a good step but markets can only go so far, especially when actors within that market have imperfect information (eg. everyone everywhere all the time). The use of evidence-driven regulation should remain in the toolbox.

          • MR AWESOME

            Obviously imperfect information is a tricky issue as I have alluded to. If everyone has imperfect information though, then forcing regulations decided by a subset of those people with their own particular imperfect information is a mistake on the order of the mistakes of communism.

            Markets actually are an amazing way of finding the best information (through rewarding those with the best information). And the markets can even form a “mosaic” of information which actually comes to reflect perfect information efficiently even though no one actor has perfect information at the start. (It’s fun to show these in simulators, and it happens every day in reality also.)

            “pollution credit auctions ”

            Why? The better answer is so much simpler. You tax pollution. Cap and trade almost comes close to maybe being efficient… ish… on every third Sunday in a blue moon month.

            Cap and trade is only popular because companies have lobbied for it rather than pay taxes they should be paying.

            And cap and trade itself isn’t the best because the decision to limit the “cap” is both arbitrary and something which companies are going to try and influence for their own gains. (On a behavioral note it’s also better to have a tax because over time most regulators fall somewhat under the effects of the capture hypothesis and begin to reflect the wants of those they are supposed to be regulating rather than abstaining from favoritism. They are very likely to become less effective over time; unless taxation comes into play, because governments are equally, or perhaps more, reluctant to stop collecting a tax source. It’s much more tricky for producers to eventually get the system rigged in their favor.

            If you tax pollution, pollution is decreased by the amount that actually makes sense to the sum of the actors, and there is tax revenue rather than a producer surplus/consumer surplus from not recognizing externality costs. And the tax revenue is even available to pay for some who have “lost” something from pollution.

            Tax pollution according to an estimate of the pollution’s external cost (yes, this parts an estimate). Producer’s determine whether reducing or just paying the tax is appropriate and producers kick the proportion of the tax onto their consumers at whatever percentage the slope of the demand curve implies.

          • Gavin Gamache

            A pollution tax would need to be continually fine-tuned in response to the market though, exacerbating the problem of poor information. Merely releasing enough credits to pay for an amount of pollution determined by evidence (not arbitrary) is a much more elegant solution. The EPA did this with sulphur dioxide in the 90s.

            It’s not enough to “take a little off the top” of pollution while keeping the proportional increases the same. There needs to be a maximum level over which we do not go.

          • MR AWESOME

            A pollution tax would only need very simple tuning to hit the limit you wanted. Trust me it would be very easy.

            The FOMC does much more important (and infinitely trickier) calculations every day to keep interest rates in the mandated 25 basis point span.

            And it is arbitrary, because it’s not a simple calculation to determine exactly “how much” pollution is a good amount. Arbitrary comes from the Latin word “arbiter” which means “judge”. It is a judgement call about exactly how much pollution is reasonable, there is no human equation which can give the perfect (and thus non arbitrary) pollution level allowed.

          • Gavin Gamache

            Interest rates are one thing, pollution is quite another. Please do look up the EPA’s sulphur dioxide credit auction. It’s extremely interesting.

          • MR AWESOME

            I’m an Economist.

            Your idea’s to set a cap and trade limit which specifies the allowable amount of pollution, no?

            Well predicting the correct tax to charge which results in a very similar amount of pollution (as whatever you’ve decided is allowable) is indeed VERY simple.

            I’ve spent a lot of time before studying (for a hedge fund which wanted a firm grounding on the biodiesel industry) EPA pollution initiatives. Cap and trade is not new to me.

          • Gavin Gamache

            Fair enough.

          • MR AWESOME

            You are over confident, and strident in your defense without even (apparently) thinking about what the other person says.

            “Interest rates are one thing, pollution is quite another. Please do look up ”

            Why would you even say this? You didn’t know what exactly I was talking about, in which case the confidence in your first sentence is misplaced arrogance.

            Everyone on Earth has a lot to learn about something. When you find someone who knows what they are talking about in a given realm; listen up instead of arguing.

          • Gavin Gamache

            My ex was a Ph.D economist student and I spent a lot of time with her and her friends. I’ve seen how the economist sausage is made, and one of them alone doesn’t really impress me. So you can either be more specific and refer to a body of work, or you can expect me to not “just trust you” when you say you’ve “done a lot of research” when advocating an untested intervention against one which has been used successfully in the past. At this point it’s all the same to me.

          • MR AWESOME

            The point I was making was you shot down what I said about the FOMC’s job being much much harder with one callous and ignorant line, and that’s wrong and not something that leads to a more intelligent and advancing individual who is capable of seeking truth.

            If I didn’t think you have the bones to be a decent person and logical thinker I wouldn’t be saying this statement or my previous comment, but I think you have something you should give some effort and I think it’s worth my time saying so, because you seem a decent fellow.

            You shouldn’t trust me. My real name isn’t MR AWESOME; and I don’t give out my real name on the internet (and a lot of work I do is the subject of nda’s in any case). However you shouldn’t be so strident without doing any research or fact checking what the other person says and instead just being dismissive. I’ve fact checked everything you’ve said (because of a contract assignment I already performed, and because of my economics education). You shot down what I was saying without the slightest bit of research into what exactly I was saying (which you proved by saying figuring out the correct tax on pollution was harder, which it’s not), or my background.

            Speaking of sulfur dioxide credits though. (I forget whether told you this/someone else here.) One of my points was that due to the capture hypothesis, usually industries regulators reflect the desires of companies rather than everyone as initially imagined. In the sulfur dioxide credit specifically this came about with the grandfathering of specific firms so that they didn’t even have the need for entering the EPA’s credit auctions. (You didn’t know that part, right? That’s okay because that’s mostly my point I make with the following paragraph.)

            You shouldn’t trust me. This paper touches on what I said though:
            http://www.nber.org/papers/w5641.pdf

            And my other point (to you or someone else) was that having taxes on pollution has a more “sure” way of working because it’s politically unfeasible to eliminate those taxes (and most people don’t even understand or know about things like credit auctions or, more specifically, how some companies are abusing things like credit auctions). Politicians have a hard time getting reelected when opponents can say things like “you cut taxes on coal producers, but raised taxes on the middle class”. And governments over all are usually very reluctant to eliminate a revenue stream. Non revenue methods of pollution reduction (or those with “non revenue characteristics”; like grandfathering certain firms) are much less robust, and governments and the regulators are typically more likely to reduce. (The bio diesel industry is currently going through this where the tax credits for producers of bio diesel are gradually [and quietly] disappearing for the reason that the EPA doesn’t face any political backlash for something most people will never understand on a “gut check” level.)

            Additionally, if there’s any collusion companies can reduce the amount they all pay in credit auctions. You eliminate collusion, then you eliminate that, but that’s an additional non-zero chance that the market doesn’t function as intended.

            And with cap and trade or credit auctions there’s often a lot less government revenue in addition to more government expenditure (even under the premise that everything is going perfectly and nothing’s going wrong in the many ways that could happen). Pollution taxes are so simple you honestly can’t really make a mistake within reason. And they more reflect the “Perfect Economy World” where costs are assigned to the choosing participant even when those costs would normally be externalities.

          • Gavin Gamache

            You know what, I apologize. I really was being a huge dick, so thanks for taking the time to explain your position in good faith. I re-read our conversation and I think I got entrenched in my position when I thought I was arguing with another layman keyboard warrior for free markets and didn’t change my tune enough to trust your assertion of expertise when it came. So hey, lesson learned on my part. I’ll hit the books again on pollution credits.

            At any rate the original reason I entered the conversation was to argue that solar power is a long-term solution due to the fact that an average American household’s electricity needs would be served by the solar energy falling on half a dozen or so square meters, about the same as a largish window. That’s impossible to harness in the short term because of the current state of solar panel efficiency as well as energy storage problems, but when I say “long-term”, I mean hundreds to thousands to (hopefully) millions of years in the future of humanity. Fossil fuels are not long-term; we’re burning millions of years’ worth of former sea creatures in a couple of centuries. Solar power will be there until we have much larger problems to worry about; the question is do you want an interim period of energy poverty as we run out of fossil fuels but before solar and battery technology is up to the task of taking over, not to mention the effects of climate change?

          • MR AWESOME

            :)

            I like that phrase “energy poverty”; and it’s an accurate name for a very real concern. I do expect someone out there will invent an answer though. And I believe they will mostly be motivated either by their own concern about the situation (and environment) or by market forces and prices (which I think would be more accurate with a tax of course). I think we will probably get off fossil fuels before they are too expensive and rare because we find something better and have the technology to exploit something else. There’s the old saying that the stone age didn’t end by running out of rocks.
            Pleasure talking with you.

      • pentachronic

        Actually Thomas Huynh is correct. Solar power IS the logical answer. Plants have been doing this since the dawn of the planet !! Now just because there isn’t a current battery technology doesn’t mean one isn’t being developed. Don’t be closed minded to possible solutions. http://www.engadget.com/2014/08/13/hemp-electrodes/

        • MR AWESOME

          We aren’t “close minded” we understand math.

          The Economically sound way will always be the Economically sound way, no matter how many people think otherwise.

          If you are all for putting excise taxes for the amount of pollution that results and forcing the choosing actors to pay for negative externalities and the “true cost” for fossil fuels; I am with you.

          If you are for arbitrary limits, etcetera, chosen by committee or enforced by government then I am against you.

          Free Markets are like evolution: and the strong survives and adapts. That’s my fear, that our groups will fear pollution (etcetera) so much that they abandon something capable of understanding the exact prices and benefits and move towards totalitarianism instead.

  • Eric H. Granberg

    There are so many ways to generate electricity other than the continuing use of fossil fuels.

    • amrik

      True, watch the documentary “who killed the electric car” big american corps have shut down anyone that tries since the 80s.

      • Jack Rocks

        Unlikely. American car manufacturers are only interested in their share price/stock options. If they can build a profitable electric car that isn’t completely retarded, and actually works, and is cheaper to make and run than a conventional car, I’m sure they’d do it right away. The trouble is more infrastructure and the problem of energy storage (batteries).

        Conspiracy theorist films are 10 a penny. When closely inspected they’re almost always complete BS.

        • Laven Pillay

          I think you may have forgotten to consider a slightly HUGE aspect of fuel-based cars – the link to Oil Sales.
          And, as you mentioned they’re only interested in money – and oil + cars has made a lot of that for everyone involved.

          • Jack Rocks

            Sorry, no. Exxon don’t make cars and Ford don’t drill for oil.

          • Laven Pillay

            You are just joking right ? That you don’t believe there’s a big relationship between manufacturers of cars (things that use oil) and the Oil Producers ? You realise that theres a _chain_ involved right ?
            So, yes, Ford doesn’t drill for oil, but their cars can’t move without it.
            You can’t seriously be unable to see that massive and old relationship ?
            I mean are you actually choosing to keep yourself ignorant ?

          • Mark Over

            Ignorance or part of.. makes no difference.
            The underlying movement of everything and anything, for it’s inhabitants on planet earth, is control. Money is the means.

      • Pickee

        That is rather old news now with Tesla, Volt, etc.

      • Pickee

        That is rather old news now with Tesla, Volt, etc.

      • S. T.

        Shut down anyone… Except for Tesla!!!

    • MR AWESOME

      Yeah, and? Currently fossil fuels are the most efficient ways. Obviously that’s changing.

      • Eric H. Granberg

        Yes they are. The easy way will always be the easy way, no matter how much harm results. You know, I was thinking today, about this and about related issues, and it strikes me that people like you will always try to put the brakes on until it is too late.

        • MR AWESOME

          The Economically sound way will always be the Economically sound way, no matter how many people think otherwise.

          If you are all for putting excise taxes for the amount of pollution that results and forcing the choosing actors to pay for negative externalities and the “true cost” for fossil fuels; I am with you.

          If you are for arbitrary limits, etcetera, chosen by committee or enforced by government then I am against you.

          Free Markets are like evolution: and the strong survives and adapts. That’s my fear, that our groups will fear pollution (etcetera) so much that they abandon something capable of understanding the exact prices and benefits and move towards totalitarianism instead.

          • Tim M

            They may be the most economically friendly way currently, but the market is waking up. The negative externalities are only recently being applied to the fossil fuel industry and even then at a conservative fraction of these costs because these costs are so difficult to determine. Does that mean we should ignore them until they are realised?

            Mr Awesome your economic argument misses the point that the fossil fuel industry has been lobbying ( an intrusion to the free market evolution idea) for far longer and far more aggressively than almost any other sector.

          • MR AWESOME

            You have clearly misunderstood by position and so I am only going to include quotations of what I have already said.

            “”No, child. The true cost isn’t “whatever the pump price is”.

            It’s true that accounting for externalities would be devilishly tricky. It does not mean that they don’t count.

            Study Economics, get a degree, learn something and then talk back.””

            “”You are right about fossil fuels not taking into account various costs and thus being “sheltered”.

            In other cases there are sometimes subsidies which could be worthy [or not] because they might be for things like guaranteeing there aren’t price spikes in the future or that the US isn’t crippled during a military showdown.

            (Of course the companies are greedy and only trying to maximize their own value. They will always argue against taxes and for subsidies. And whatever reasoning they might publicly state, their real interests are mostly going to be their own company values.)””

          • Jack Rocks

            The “true cost” of fossil fuels is whatever the pump price is. There’s absolutely no way anyone can seriously “cost” externalities, taking into account both positive and negative, without any kind of bias and including everything that needs to be included. For example, increased Co2 in the atmosphere is good for plants, crops and so on. That’s why Co2 levels are artificially increased in greenhouses. Is any non-politically correct researcher going to add that into his spreadsheet? No.

          • MR AWESOME

            No, child. The true cost isn’t “whatever the pump price is”.

            It’s true that accounting for externalities would be devilishly tricky. It does not mean that they don’t count.

            Study Economics, get a degree, learn something and then talk back.

          • Jack Rocks

            What you mean so I can write idiotic reports like Stern’s, the conclusions for which were paid for by the government in a completely opaque piece of policy-based evidence manufacturing? How have his predictions stood up to the test of time I wonder?. Sorry no, I think I’ll pass.

          • MR AWESOME

            I’m not defending any past policy actions.

            I’m arguing against your moronic statement that “the true price is whatever the pump price is”. You made a completely foolish claim.

          • Jack Rocks

            “past policy actions” – Stern was all about the “true cost” of fossil fuels. Why don’t you do some reading.

          • MR AWESOME

            You’re an idiot.

            I said I am not supporting what anyone else tried in the past, nor am I supporting their mistaken ways.

            Why not try some reading comprehension?

          • Eric H. Granberg

            As Tim M pointed out already, and more eloquent than I, your argument claiming to be in favor of the free market regarding energy seems spurious at the outset, since the fossil fuel industry has from nearly the very beginning been effectively sheltered from such constraints. By the way, I would be interested to know your take on OPEC vs non OPEC states such as ourselves. My point being that I never seem to see our players pricing their product under what artificial prices OPEC limits create. Not very Free Market there…

          • MR AWESOME

            You are right about fossil fuels not taking into account various costs and thus being “sheltered”.

            In other cases there are sometimes subsidies which could be worthy [or not] because they might be for things like guaranteeing there aren’t price spikes in the future or that the US isn’t crippled during a military showdown.

            (Of course the companies are greedy and only trying to maximize their own value. They will always argue against taxes and for subsidies. And whatever reasoning they might publicly state, their real interests are mostly going to be their own company values.)

            Everything in Economics comes to Supply and Demand (probably 90% of the time). Actually Google “producer surplus”, “consumer surplus”, and “supply and demand quantity versus price graph” please. I can’t explain that very easily here. Check those out and then read this:

            There is no “one price” for how expensive it is to get oil out of the ground everywhere. Some oil costs $10 a barrel to extract, some oil would cost $400 a barrel to extract.

            There is, however, “almost” “one price” for the price of oil (which is wherever the supply curve and demand curve intersects). So at that price the marginal supply of oil on the market is just barely Economically profitable. However all the oil which is cheaper to get than that “marginal oil” is very profitable.

            “”Not very Free Market there…””
            Actually it is. They are price takers at the domestic price.

            Companies for a commodity product are almost certainly price takers. They will influence the price overall, individually though they don’t see a change whether they cut production a little or raise production a little.

      • chamers

        They’re also an efficient way to generate pollution.

    • Konserwatysta

      No, not efficiently, and with a lower overall total environmental impact.

    • bradzbrad

      but none so efficient or flexible. deal with it. carbon fuels will be with us for quite some time yet.

  • Connor Robertson

    To power the world in 2030 exclusively with solar energy, with the efficiency it has today an not counting in this new factor, we would need 192,000 square miles. That’s only one Spain’s worth of land. With falling prices of materials, this is possible to accomplish.

    • Richard Barnes

      I just don’t see it being politically feasible though. It will have to become economically profitable before it can make strides beyond fossil fuels.

      • Valfreyja

        Or we’ll have to have a cultural revolution in which we stop valuing politicians who value their own wallet above the good of humanity. It really is just that easy. Finding the battery technology, the key stone and deal breaker item that makes this whole alternative energy idea feasible in the first place, however…well, don’t hold your breath.

        • virkot

          Feel the Bern.

    • PS2viciado

      Just put them on the roofs, and where solar power isn’t enough we can complement it with wind. Although we still have long ways to go in terms of efficiency.

    • bensemus x

      We don’t even have to use 100% solar. We have a lot of other sustainable energy means as well. We just need people to step up and get them implemented.

  • AssHat900

    Have you tried burning coal? So much cheaper.

    • wjfox

      When you factor in the externalised costs, such as health impacts from air and water pollution, coal isn’t actually that cheap, and is hugely subsidised. Solar might be more expensive now – but the costs have plummeted in recent years and efficiency has improved. These trends will continue in the future, until parity is reached (probably within 10-15 years). Coal is a dirty, polluting, finite and unsustainable energy source. It’s a dead-end technology and mature industry. By contrast, solar and other renewables are clean, non-polluting, localised and decentralised, with a 5 billion year supply, and provide massive opportunities for jobs, growth and technological innovation.

      • MR AWESOME

        Actually it’s still much cheaper even given the negative externalties with current technology. Of course technology is thankfully changing.

        • chamers

          And how expensive an externality is destroying the habitability of the planet? I’d love to know a dollar figure.

          • MR AWESOME

            I’m sure Google can help you there.

            Ask groups which include Economists and Climate Scientists. Not just those that speak in generalities or over simplification.

        • cros13

          Actually that’s incorrect. Solar PV is now cheaper per watt hour than coal in many locations. In most areas the y are around the 4c/kWh level. A few planned coal plants have been cancelled recently and replaced by solar panels largely for commercial reasons.

          • MR AWESOME

            Show that data please!

            I would be very excited to actually see proof of that. About two years ago I priced all the various energy costs (looking into wind investments) for a hedge fund. And as of that time subsidies and wild eyed optimists were the only thing keeping those industries afloat.

            Some people were literally paying people to take wind energy power from them because every kilowatt hour they “sold” meant they received a subsidy.

            It’s possible you have new data. There are a lot of people with wishful thinking, and the math skills of kindergartners arguing in this sector.

    • AssyrianKing

      living up to your name

    • kid_you_not

      Maybe cheaper but they have a higher rate of HIV.

    • VisionSEO .

      Are you from Kentucky or West Virginia?

  • Richard Barnes

    While this is interesting, and will add to the energy created by solar panels. It is dwarfed by the capacity of using graphene in ocean current generators. Right now the problem is scaling the tehcnology.

  • Luke DeHart

    Plus 10 point for the correct acid-base theory in the article. Give this person a promotion.

  • mark slater
  • Joseph

    people can say something as stupid as 1 atom thick and still get acknowledgement. WTF is wrong with this crowd. XD

    • MR AWESOME

      So you are saying it isn’t a one atom thick layer? I’ve read one atom thick literally everywhere graphene has ever been mentioned that I’ve read. What’s your idea?

  • Yousaf Bhutta

    It’s really new achievement in the field of science and technology. Now the solar plate will able to meet domestics need of the electricity .http://studiestime.com/

  • Daniel Smyth (SiMahDan)

    I can’t even finish the article until I make this comment solar panels do not store energy!!!! Batteries store energy. Two different Technologies.

  • Gence Nointeli

    Direct Quote taken from the beginning of the article: “When you have rainy days or a lot of cloud cover, there is only so much
    energy that panels can store for later use. While engineers and material
    scientists have been able to make their efficiency far better over the
    years, with solar panels that store decent amounts of energy to be used
    when sun is not readily available,”
    Never saw a solar panel that stores energy!

  • Jason Gigis

    What about nuclear fusion? When people find out how to make it generate energy, it will be the best source of energy ever. It’s safe, there is so much fuel, and it isn’t bad for the enviroment.

  • Jason Gigis

    Pro nuclear fusion!

  • Rj Kietchen

    “…there is only so much energy that panels can store for later use” Dumbest thing written in the history of mankind.

  • JimthePE

    Hundreds of mV and microamperes. In other words, microWatts of power.

    This is really cool, and hopefully something useful will come off it, but don’t celebrate yet.

  • Forsaken

    Guys, do I understand correctly this idea?

  • Vipin Singh

    solar cell now become too advance as compare to a normal solar cell. A photovoltaic cell is 10X more efficient than a normal solar cell. And also nanotechnology immersed with PV cell and made a new solar cell called a nano-photovoltaic cell. Look at here : http://www.greyb.com/top-players-nano-photovoltaic-cells/
    and also this :http://www.greyb.com/5-disruptive-breakthroughs-solar-cells/

  • Gerald Johnson

    Now we just need a solution for large amounts of snow!

    http://www.solarbuffalowny.com/