Solar power as a method of electricity generation has many advantages. It is a renewable and highly abundant resource, and it is sustainable. It can meet the needs of present populations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Harnessing solar energy also does not, in general, produce any pollution (though the production of the solar panels can). It is available worldwide and can actually reduce electricity costs for individuals and businesses .
There are, however, some disadvantages to solar energy. The first is that expensive batteries are required to store energy produced by solar power. The second is that solar energy is an intermittent energy source, meaning that there are certain times when sunlight is more scarce, such as in the morning and at night. Overcast days can be difficult to predict, which is why solar power is not often used as a baseline energy source . This is where anti-solar panels and their anti-solar cells come in.
While the idea of solar panels that work at night may sound like science-fiction, they could become a reality sooner than you think. Jeremy Munday, an engineering professor at the University of California Davis, is in the process of developing a prototype for an “anti-solar” panel that would work opposite to the way a typical solar panel functions .
The professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is developing a specially-designed photovoltaic cell that could generate up to fifty watts of power per square meter at night .
How Does the Process Work?
Traditional solar panels consist of many smaller units known as photovoltaic cells, which convert sunlight into energy. Each cell consists of two “slices” of semi-conductive material, like silicon. Negatively-charged phosphorus is added to the top layer, and positively-charged boron is added to the bottom layer, creating an electric force field. When sunlight hits the cells, the light particles knock the electrons out of atoms, and they get pushed out of this electronic junction.
Metal plates on the sides of the cells collect the electrons and transfer them to wires. They then flow along the circuit in the same way as any other source of electricity .
Anti-solar cells work in the same way as traditional solar panels but in reverse. Traditional solar panels are cool compared to the sun so that they will absorb light. On the other hand, if an object is hot in comparison to its surroundings, it radiates heat in the form of infrared light. A “nighttime photovoltaic cell” would use the earth as a heat source and the night sky as a heat sink [2,4].
Munday’s thermoradiative cells, which generate power by radiating heat into their surroundings, would heat up and point at the night sky, which is a much cooler “object,” and radiates heat as infrared light . He explained the basics of the process in a statement:
“A regular solar cell generates power by absorbing sunlight, which causes a voltage to appear across the device and for current to flow. In these new devices, light is instead emitted and the current and voltage go in the opposite direction, but you still generate power,” Munday said in a statement. “You have to use different materials, but the physics is the same.” 
The Benefits of Anti-Solar Panels
Storage has been one of the largest stumbling blocks for the solar industry. To store energy for use at night or when the sun is obscured, solar panels rely on either expensive batteries. Surplus power generated during sunlight is transferred to a public utility power grid, which is often powered by fossil fuels. Munday’s cells would solve this problem.
“Solar cells are limited in that they can only work during the day, whereas these devices can work 24/7, which is the real advantage,” Munday told CNN. “Nobody wants to lose power once the sun sets.” 
These new panels would work during the day as well, as long as they were shielded from direct sunlight. This would allow them to operate twenty-four hours a day, which could help balance out the power grid over a day-to-night cycle .
The anti-solar cells could also help achieve carbon neutrality because they could run on wasted heat leftover from industrial processes. Carbon emissions would be balanced with carbon removal so that no net carbon would be released .
Anti-Solar Panel Limitations
The panels are still in the developmental phase and do require continued work. Currently, the prototype Munday has developed only produces about twenty-five percent of the energy of traditional solar panels. Still, he is confident that further development will produce even more effective panels .
As Munday and others continue to work on projects such as this, we may one day soon be able to use solar power as a baseline energy source.
- “Solar energy pros and cons in 2021.” Energy Informative.
- “Anti-Solar Cells: A Photovoltaic Cell That Works at Night.” UC Davis. Andy Fell. January 29, 2020.
- “How Do Solar Panels Work?” Live Science. Michael Dhar. December 6, 2017.
- “Nighttime Photovoltaic Cells: Electrical Power Generation by Optically Coupling with Deep Space.” Pubs. Tristan Deppe & Jeremy N. Munday. November 19, 2019.
- “A researcher designed ‘anti-solar’ panels that generate electricity in the dark of night.” CNN. Scottie Andrew. February 6, 2020.
- “Anti-solar cells: A photovoltaic cell that works at night.” Science Daily. January 29, 2020.