Star Trek wasn’t wrong – space IS the final frontier. And now, it may be the next frontier for powering solar panels.

Generally speaking, solar panels don’t generate energy if the sun isn’t shining, which is pretty much half the day – and it functions under capacity during overcast daylight hours. Researchers have been working hard to come up with solutions for these shortcomings; a few teams are taking a completely different approach than those who suggest using battery storage. They’re developing a solar panel that can derive energy from the night sky. Instead of using photovoltaic cells, it operates based on changes in temperature.

Stanford researchers published a study called “Generating Light From Darkness” and they mention “the surrounding air heats the warm side of the thermoelectric generator, with the ensuing temperature difference converted into usable electricity.” In addition, another study published by another team at the University of California, Davis, called “Nighttime Photovoltaic Cells: Electrical Power Generation by Optically Coupling with Deep Space” says that, “to turn even low-level heat into energy, scientists have to use a thermal cell instead of a photo cell. The materials must be able to absorb the lowest wavelengths of energy.” The report also mentions that if heat seeps out of thermal cells at night, it “could let scientists capture the energy as it goes out the same way we capture the sun’s energy as it comes in.”

It’s truly exciting to see where science can take us, all in the name of saving the planet. Read more about harnessing the energy of space:

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