As we approach the end of 2018 and move into the slower pace of the winter season, innovation shows no signs of slowing down. It seems that on a daily basis the solar energy community is buzzing with news of the latest and most efficient solar energy inventions. Across the world, we hear of brand-new and highly innovative solar and renewable energy inventions being tested, produced, and praised for their radical additions to the solar energy sector every day.  

The latest solar innovation in the field comes out of Stanford University, thanks to a dedicated team of electrical engineers who have been working diligently this year to complete their latest solar energy project. Professor Shanhui Fan, along with postdoctoral scholar Wei Li, has effectively revolutionized rooftop solar panels, creating a more efficient and dual-purpose device that is unlike anything the solar energy community has seen to date. 

Electricity Generation and Building Temperature Regulation 

Professor Fan and his team have created a double-layered solar panel that is able to simultaneously harvest solar energy, while also keeping building temperatures regulated. The double-layered solar panels work by having each layer perform a specific purpose. The top layer works like a traditional solar panel, using semiconductor materials to capture and utilize solar energy. The bottom layer works based on a mechanism known as radiative cooling; a process used to beam heat away from the building outfitted with the double-layered solar panels.  

Traditional solar panels typically just have sun-facing panels, which are able to create electricity by harnessing sunlight. For Professor Fan and his team, however, they envisioned being able to do more with solar panels and increase, not just efficiency, but the capabilities of solar panels in general.  

Harnessing Different Light Properties 

The most fascinating component of Fan’s duel solar power device is that is works to control different properties of light at the same time. His incentive to move forward with a duel solar energy prototype is the idea that their device will be able to make energy and save energy at the same time. By using all possible energy properties through this double paneled solar device, Fan and his team have created a prototype they are confident will be put to practical use and adequately perform both tasks, leading to cut costs and increased efficiency. 

How the Double Paneled Solar Device Works 

What is most special and interesting about his particular device is the bottom layer. Traditional rooftop panels are used in conjunction with these bottom solar panels, which primarily work to cool buildings and regulate temperature. Radiative cooling is a natural process that occurs even in our own bodies, and is the conduit through which the bottom solar panel layer is able to perform its cooling and temperature regulatory functions.  

In order to release heat away from the buildings these duel solar panels will be placed on, without the heat becoming trapped once again in the atmosphere, Fan has come up with an incredible way to bypass this problem and ultimately allow the heat to escape the atmosphere and be released into space. According to Fan, the Earth’s atmosphere contains certain areas of weakness, or holes, in which certain wavelengths of infrared light are able to pass through the atmosphere and straight into space. 

Based on the tests Fan and his team have been able to perform, they are optimistic about the results and performance of the dual-layered solar panel. The leader of the primary experiments on the prototype, Zhen Chen, noted several key features from testing that show that the solar-powered device is functioning as intended. By measuring and observing air temperature and the temperature of either of the layers, researchers have adequately been able to determine that the layers are properly working to absorb, but also deflect, sunlight in order to facilitate cooling. 

There are still a few more tests to be performed by Stanford researchers, especially to work to improve the efficiency of the metal liners in the solar panels that help facilitate the radiative cooling process. With their current plans for testing and improving their initial prototype in the works, it will be no surprise if duel-purpose solar panels become more mainstream in the solar energy field in the coming years. 

Resource:

https://news.stanford.edu/2018/11/08/new-device-can-collect-solar-energy-cool-buildings/ 

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