Switching Up Solar Energy


Katie Keovongphet, Reporter

The world’s first solar panel appeared in 1883, yet it only accounts for 1.6 percent of the United States’ total electricity generation. Hopeful for a future society that will primarily run using clean energy sources, researchers at the University of California, Davis are working on a prototype of a solar panel that operates without the sun.

These anti-solar panels use Earth’s radiation at night combined with the coolness of space to generate energy. Unfortunately, the anti-solar panel prototypes can only produce about 25 percent of the energy a normal solar panel can.

“Based off of efficiency, for what I know right now, it’s not as efficient as solar panels,” AP environmental science teacher Alex Messer said. “It’s probably about a quarter of where solar panels are. The thing is, solar panels have had decades to develop whereas this is something that’s pretty much fairly new within the past five years.”

Solar panels aren’t something that people would come in contact with often, but they are used in certain locations.

I think you see [solar panels] in a good amount of places,” physics teacher Alex Bevly said. “I think there’s still tax credits for it, but they show up on a lot of people’s houses. They show up in a lot of businesses who place them among their roofs.”

Bevly said that there are several types of solar panels that generate different amounts of energy in different ways.

“There’s photovoltaic solar, which directly turns the light into energy. There’s concentrated solar, which can use mirrors to reflect light to a tower, and then you also have concentrated photovoltaic solar, which is a little bit different,” Bevly said. “You have a lot of different substrates that you can use for the solar panel.”

Bevly said there are variations with solar panels since new materials are constantly being developed and believes that integrating this into society could be a bit difficult since normal solar panels can generate much more energy than their anti-solar panel counterparts. 

“One difficulty I see with it is just how much energy is in the infrared radiation at night compared to the amount of solar intensity you get from the sun during the day,” Bevly said. “I’d have to see how well the infrared radiation actually interacts with the material used in solar panels, how efficient that is comparatively.”

Multiple other sources of clean energy exist too, such as wind and geothermal. Taking this into consideration, solar energy might not be the best option. 

“The highest efficiency is geothermal,” Messer said. “The only downside is it releases certain gases. Wind isn’t too great either even though it’s a lot easier to work with. You can have wind farms on [farm lands] and it’s not going to interfere with any of the agriculture, but for solar farms you have to have certain regions just dedicated to solar farms.”

According to a recent survey done by the Raider Echo staff, 2 out of 21 Raiders know someone in their neighborhood who owns solar panels.

It’s expensive; it’s not the most efficient,” Messer said. “I think it’s like 18 percent efficiency where max reported is about 22 to 25 percent, and that’s because they’re usually high in photovoltaic cells. It’s not the best. It’s an option, but it’s not the best.

Regardless, Messer believes anti-solar panels could be largely successful in the future. Especially since climate change has become a big topic in recent years.

“I’d say it’s promising and I think we should look more into it, especially since it could be something that would help out with people who might want a cheaper option. It can operate 24 hours a day, so it’s not dependent upon whether [there’s sunlight].”

Messer said that a culture shift towards green energy would be what it takes in order for people to switch over to more renewable sources, and possibly even anti-solar panels in the future. 

“If you see what’s going on in presidential debates, climate change is always a hot topic. It’s always pushing for green energy,” Messer said. “There are some people who are scared of change, so this might help them get comfortable with it. We need to start shifting over in the next few decades; 2050 is kind of our stopping point. We need to figure out what we need to do now and actually start implementing those plans before it’s actually too late.”