How do solar panels work at night? The short answer is, they don’t. That being said, there are ways to use the energy they generate during the day.

How Solar Panels Work

The simple answer is that solar panels convert solar energy into electricity. How it actually works is a little more involved. The sun generates incredible amounts of energy every second. It consists of heat, visible light, radio waves, and other parts of the radio spectrum. It’s generated as photons, which are particle/wave bits of energy that we see as light rays. Solar panels are made up of photovoltaic cells that when hit by photons releases electrons which move around rapidly and generate a direct electric current. An inverter converts the direct current into an alternating current which your home can use.

How To Use the Energy Generated During the Day

One way is Net Metering. That’s an agreement between the homeowner and the utility where the utility credits the homeowner for the excess power generated by the solar energy system. The credits will usually be used either at night, or on days when the system isn’t generating the usual amount of energy, such as during cloudy days or bad weather.

Another way to use the energy created at night is through a storage system. You can have a solar battery installed in your home to store energy during the day. The size of the battery will depend on your budget and your needs. It will discharge when your solar panels aren’t generating as much power, usually at night. These batteries are larger versions of the battery in your cell phone and laptop. They do have a finite lifespan but will last much longer than those batteries. Many come with a 10-year warranty. They’re usually mounted on a wall in your garage and are flat, so they don’t take up much space. They will take up some wall space, how much will be determined by how big of a battery pack you buy. These battery packs are especially useful if you have a power outage. They’ll keep your food cold and your internet or Wi-Fi up and running. There are inverters available that will disconnect your system from the grid, which is a safety precaution. It prevents your system from sending electricity through the grid, which would pose a serious risk to the repair crews. It does, however, allow your solar panels to continue to power your home and charge your storage system, if you have one. It’s a better alternative to a fossil fueled generator. Ask your Chico area solar energy provider if they offer such a system.

Will There Ever Be a Solar Panel That Works at Night?

Possibly. There is research being done on a solar panel that would work at night. Instead of absorbing direct sunlight, they are mounted away from direct sunlight and absorb the heat of the day and radiate that heat at night, generating electricity. Since the panels are much warmer than their surroundings, the heat radiates out and generates electricity. They also can be set up to use waste heat from industrial processes. By capturing this heat, it can help towards carbon neutrality, by balancing carbon emissions with carbon capture so there are zero net carbon emissions.

These panels would also be good for people with off-grid systems. Instead of having to depend entirely on battery storage or a back up generator, these “anti-solar panels”, as some have called them, will continue to generate power once the sun goes down. This will mean that those living off-grid will have a much more secure energy source and some peace of mind.

These panels will also be a way to keep the lights on during a power outage or disaster scenario. By being able to keep people’s lights on and their food fresh, it will help emergency services by reducing the number of people who are cut off from electricity.

By working around the clock, these solar panels will help overcome the biggest limitation of solar systems, that being they only operate during the day. By operating 24/7, they’ll be a possible option to balance the power grid during the entire day-night cycle.

While this is a great idea, there’s still plenty of work to do to make them a viable alternative. They’re still in the early development stage in a laboratory. Currently, they generate only 50 watts per square meter, which is 25% of what regular solar panels generate. Traditional solar panels have decades of research and development behind them that has gotten them to where they are now. It’s definitely going to take some time before these prototype panels will be able to generate the same energy levels as conventional solar panels.

So What Should You Do?

That’s up to you. If you’re looking to buy solar in Chico, contact us at Royal Solar and we’ll discuss the systems available with you. Each solar system is customized to your specific needs, budget, and other factors. How big is your roof, how much shade is on your property, what are your energy needs, your budget and so on.

As far as a system that will function at night, aside from purchasing a solar battery storage system, there really isn’t an alternative, at least for now. The previously mentioned “thermal-voltaic” panels are probably several years if not possibly a decade away, depending on technological developments, which if current solar panels are any indication, will be a relatively slow process.

Even with their limitations, a conventional solar energy system is a good investment, which will pay for itself, via net metering which will help you save on your energy bills by generating credits toward your monthly bill. You’ll be able to take those savings and use them for other things, such as upgrades for your home, a vacation, investments, or whatever else you would like to do. Royal Solar is ready to help you set up your solar energy system.