Can You Charge a Solar Panel with Fire? (This Could …)

If solar panels can’t get the power they need from the sun, many people ask if it’s possible to charge a solar panel with fire as it’s a form of light.

Below, we will discuss if it’s possible to use fire to charge solar panels, as well as if wildfire smoke affects solar panels and how if ash is bad for solar panels, and how to charge solar panels when there isn’t any usable sunlight.

  • Charging with fire
  • Ash and Solar Panels
  • Solar Panels and Smoke Haze
  • Charging My Solar Panels Without The Sun?
Wood Fire Campfire

Can You Charge A Solar Panel With Fire?

With wildfires becoming more frequent, one of the most frequent questions that many homeowners ask is about other ways to charge their solar panels, especially if they live in areas where there are many rainy or cloudy days, such as the Pacific Northwest during the winter.

Other than asking if they can charge the solar battery with LED lights, which the answer is yes, they often ask if they can use fire to charge a solar panel.

After all, if sunlight can charge a solar panel, why not another source of light? Solar cells use the visual light spectrum to generate electricity, which is between 400 nanometers and 700 nanometers.

Solar panels can’t use ultraviolet or infrared light to charge solar panels. While fire does emit light, most of the light radiation from a fire is infrared, which is heat and does not provide what a solar panel needs to create electricity.

We use infrared in a wide variety of devices, such as remote controls, heat lamps, thermal imaging, and much more.

While we can see fires from wildfires, bonfires, and other fire types, they do not produce enough light between the 380 and 750-nanometer wavelength range required to charge solar panels as infrared is 700 nanometers to 1 millimeter.

Instead, when we feel the warmth from fires, a hot sidewalk, or heat from the sun, what we feel is an infrared light that’s been converted to heat.

Does Wildfire Smoke Affect Solar Panels?

Yes, there are two ways in which wildfire smoke affects solar panels. One way is that wildfire smoke blocks the sun, which means the photovoltaic cells cannot capture the sunlight and convert it to electricity. The other way is that the wildfire leaves a residue on the solar panels, which reduces the panel’s ability to absorb the energy from the sun.

You’ve likely seen pictures from the 2020 wildfire season in the United States and Australia. During the daytime, the sky in San Francisco was a reddish-orange and the thick layer of wildfire smoke significantly darkened the daytime skies almost to the point that it was near nighttime levels of darkness.

The same with a vast portion of Australia; the thick wildfire smoke effectively blocked out the sun, but the fires themselves somewhat illuminated the wildfire smoke during the daytime.

However, the smoke from both wildfires effectively blocked the light wavelength the solar panels needed to generate electricity.

See also: What Are Solar Panels? (How They are Made)

Is Ash Bad For Solar Panels?

Yes, ash from wildfires is very bad for solar panels. Not only does it affect the solar panel’s ability to absorb the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity, but a buildup of ash on your solar panel causes long-term damage.

Wind can carry smoke and ash from wildfires that are hundreds of miles away, so even if you don’t have a wildfire nearby, you probably might still have ash or smoke.

If that’s the case, it’s best to clean the ash off your panels regularly, even if you don’t notice any smoke in the air. Even dust or pollen will reduce solar panel output.

While rain may clean off some of the ash, it’s best to not wait for rain and do it yourself, especially since rain can make ash stick to your panels.

You can brush small amounts off your panels, but that might take too long. If you have a large amount of ash on your solar panels, you can use a water hose for faster results.

Do Solar Panels Work In Smoke Haze?

Solar panels do not work very well in a smoke haze. In Australia, it’s been found that rooftop solar panels saw electricity output drop by up to 45% on days with a heavy smoke haze.

In San Carlos, California, one company found that smoke haze and ash reduces efficiency by 35% or more.

How Does Smoke Affect Solar Panels?

Wildfires send smoke into the atmosphere, causing hazy conditions and poor air quality. The particles in the smoke absorb light and reduce the intensity of the sunlight.

Since solar panels need sunlight to produce electricity, this reduces their ability to generate power. Some people ask us how that’s different than snow, but snow reflects light rather than absorbs it.

How Can I Charge My Solar Panels Without The Sun?

There are a few ways to charge your solar panels when there is no sunlight. If your solar panels aren’t on your roof, move the solar panels to face the sun directly.

During the winter, you might have to change the location of your panels as there are fewer daytime hours. Another method is to place your solar panels close underneath LED lights.

Another method is to use mirrors to redirect sunlight to your solar panels if you need to. If you live in an area where you’re not receiving direct sunlight, place a mirror nearby to reflect it onto your solar panels.

While it isn’t the most efficient option, it will help to charge your solar panels.

There are other methods that work for solar lights rather than solar panels, but they might work depending upon if your panels aren’t fixed to your roof. Flashlights are an easy way to charge solar lights, and the brighter the light, the faster the solar light will charge.

Basically, anything that produces light within the light wavelength that solar panels need to generate electricity can help charge a solar panel. The brighter the light, the better. Even fluorescent lights will charge a solar panel.

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Elliot has 20+ years of experience in renewable technology, from conservation to efficient living. His passion is to help others achieve independent off-grid living.

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