Solar Panels Underwater – Subnautica

Underwater solar panels? How is that even possible?
You’d be astonished at what folks are doing with photovoltaics these days.

Here are some of the highlights we’ll be looking at in this article;

  • How underwater solar panels gather the Sun’s rays
  • What materials underwater solar panels are made of
  • Whether these panels can generate enough energy to run machinery
  • What other forms of energy solar panels can help create underwater
  • The future of underwater solar panels

I’ll be covering the latest developments in the development of underwater solar panels.

Solar Panel With Beads Of Water
Solar Panel With Beads Of Water

How can solar panels access enough solar energy to work underwater?

The solar spectrum narrows as you move downwards in the water. Silicon, the traditional material for solar cells, absorbs infrared and red light, but so does water.

Most of the visible wavelength range is scattered. At depths of 2 or more meters, there’s no infrared left. This makes untreated silicon a poor underwater energy collector.

Surprisingly though, blue and yellow light penetrates deep into the water.

This means wide-bandgap semiconductors, as opposed to narrow-band semiconductors found in ordinary solar cells, may work far better in deeper waters.

For instance, scientists in India tested an amorphous solar cell coated with a substance called polydimethylsiloxane.

PDMS protected the cell from water and left it clear enough to receive solar rays. At 20 centimeters below the surface, the cell produced 2.79% more energy than a cell without it.

Another group of scientists decided to see if they could eliminate another possible factor by testing solar cells in waters located in various parts of the world. They found to their surprise that depth made far more difference than location.

Clearwater allowed cells to perform even better. Solar radiation could be harvested at depths of 50 meters. Coldwater extended the range even further.

What new and different materials could underwater solar panels be built out of?

Organic solar cells may make for the best components of underwater solar panels. They aren’t used on land because silicon is far more effective under atmospheric conditions.

These would be composed of small molecules, alloys from elements from groups 3 and 5 on the periodic table, and wide-bandgap semiconductors. They’ve been shown to work under low light. Just like the conditions found underwater.

Even better, these organic solar cells are inexpensive.

The overall design of cells and solar panels would remain relatively similar to those on land.

Another group of researchers has found that a material called a tandem perovskite could be ready for the market in the near future.

Their special crystalline structure would replace silicon. They could be used on land and underwater.

If solar panels were designed with 2 or more different solar cells embedded in them, then these could be used to target different parts of the light spectrum.

The increased total power generation for solar panels, especially underwater, would be extraordinarily useful.

Can underwater solar panels produce enough energy to drive a submarine? Or power a factory, a habitat?

Submarines can’t be powered by the sun yet, but a floating solar array is under development in Lake Thun in Switzerland right now.

It will be able to recharge the batteries of a submersible attached by cable to a surrounding set of solar panels atop pontoons. Scientists note the striking similarity to a water lily.

Those panels could supply 30 kilowatts of electricity to the 30-meter-long, 10-meter-high submersible, allowing it to stay submerged for far longer than the current 30 minutes between rechargings.

Such a system could be used to provide energy to any building on a harbor, including the famous Sydney Opera House.

A future system could be developed using higher-performance solar cells tapping into energy provided by blue and yellow parts of the solar spectrum for small submarines. However, they couldn’t remain submerged as nuclear-powered subs are today.

Large, stationary, underwater objects would be far easier to power with such a system. Simply rig up the pontoons with enough solar panels, attach the underwater object with power cables, and you’re good to go.

Off Shore Solar Panels
Offshore Solar Panels

What other forms of energy can underwater solar panels help generate?

Researchers predict they will have developed underwater solar panels that can produce artificial photosynthesis in a few years. How would these work?

First, researchers coated the cells’ electrodes with a thin layer of transparent titanium dioxide.

Then, they placed a layer of silicon dioxide between that outer layer and the inner layer of ordinary silicon.

Each layer performs a different function. The ordinary layer of silicon absorbs sunlight. The silicon dioxide functions as a booster. The titanium dioxide prevents corrosion and conducts electricity.

Then these layers were coated with iridium. This is the surface where carbon dioxide and water meet. The cell treated in this way conducts the electricity to that surface.

It breaks those molecules’ chemical bonds, permitting them to recombine into pure oxygen and methane. The methane can be used as fuel to power any underwater operation.

Researchers describe this system as working as a reverse battery.

Normally, batteries draw on chemical reactions to generate electricity to power something. Here, these underwater cells use electricity to generate chemical reactions and chemical fuels, much as plants do. Thus artificial photosynthesis.

This process could be used to transform wastes from factory smokestacks into usable fuel by surrounding the stacks with water tanks embedded with underwater solar panels.

Result? The end of air pollution as we’ve known it. No one would dump such precious molecules into the air as this technology spreads.

What is the future of underwater solar panel technology?

No one is assuming silicon is the be-all and end-all for solar panels anymore.

Researchers are now building computer models of the required characteristics of materials for the effective generation of electricity underwater.

Other researchers are testing unusual combinations of materials in what appears to them as the most effective sequences of layers.

One high-tech material that’s already being used in land-based solar panels is graphene. Graphene is composed of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern.

It’s useful in construction solar cells because of its lightness, durability, and transparency.

Researchers found that its conductivity can be used to separate positively charged ions in rainwater. This means it could produce electricity during thunderstorms.

It’s not too outrageous to conjecture that this same capability could be used deep underwater in salty seas to produce electricity for submersibles and underwater facilities.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology may be the ultimate answer to the challenges facing engineers in devising more energy-efficient solar panels on land and in the sea.

This technology derives its name from the Greek word “nano,” which means one-billionth. The components of nanotechnology would all measure roughly around one billionth of a meter–at the atomic scale.

The benefit derived from using such tiny technology is its extraordinary precision. Once engineers master it, nanotechnology would permit them to design anything from the bottom up.

Nanowires

Extremely thin solar cells would boost energy production. The use of nanowires for leads would increase energy retention and efficiency.

Solar panels need not be panels as such. Solar cells and leads could be “grown” into the surface of anything, including underwater facilities and submersibles. They could also be applied to their surfaces like paint.

Research on these applications is in the early stages, but the potential for harvesting more and more of the sun’s rays efficiently with nanotechnology is obvious.

Sources

  • https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/02/25/how-do-solar-cells-work-underwater/
  • https://news.stanford.edu/2015/11/18/underwater-solar-cells-111815/
  • https://www.energymatters.com.au/renewable-news/em3242/
  • https://www.osa-opn.org/home/newsroom/2020/march/building_high-efficiency_underwater_solar_cells/
  • https://scitechdaily.com/more-efficient-underwater-solar-cells-with-optimal-materials/
  • https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/News/graphene-solar-panels-work-rain-or-shine
  • https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/73145

General Solar Panel FAQ

What Problems Do Solar Panels Solve?

In environmental terms, solar panels can potentially solve a handful of problems, including;
1. Air pollution
2. Water pollution
3. Greenhouse gases
4. Reduction in fossil fuel use

For individuals, solar energy allows you to become completely self-sufficient when it comes to your electricity needs and can save you a lot of money in the long run.

What Are 3 Important Uses Of Solar Panels?

The three most important uses of solar panels are;
1. Solar electricity. This can be used to power almost any appliance in your home, including TVs, computers, and fridges.
2. Lighting. In addition to the use of low-power, LED lightbulbs, solar panels can provide an efficient, low-cost, and environmentally friendly way to provide lighting to homes. 
3. Portable solar. In our modern, always-connected lives, our phones, tablets, and computers are almost always with us, and all run on batteries. Portable PV chargers can help keep our batteries topped up no matter where we are, as long as there is some sun to charge them.

Do solar panels give you free electricity?

Once the cost of the array is paid in full, the energy it produces is free. There are ongoing maintenance costs, too, such as annual panel cleaning, etc. 

How much will my electric bill be with solar panels?

Suppose your solar array includes a solar battery backup system, and it is large enough to fully cover your energy usage per day. In that case, your monthly electric bill will be next to zero dollars, even with a grid-tied system. 

If your solar array does not include a solar battery backup system, then at night, your house or business will use grid electricity. That cost will vary but expect to pay from 1/3-2/3 of your average electric bill, and that cost will fluctuate seasonally. 

Do you save money with solar panels?

The simple answer is, Yes, you save money with solar panels. There is an initial upfront cost, but since solar panels are warrantied for 25 years, you will save money over time. You will also begin to see monthly savings in energy bills, but there are other ways that solar panels pay you back. Those include:
1. Adding value to your home or commercial building 
2. Monthly decreases in energy costs
3. The ability to add more energy appliances without increased monthly costs
4. The potential for tax credits for going solar

Can solar panels power a house 24-7?

Most definitely! Solar panels can certainly power a house 24-7, with the addition of a high-quality inverter and a suitable battery bank, of course. To power, a house under normal usage will require a massive solar array, though, and there will be a very expensive initial financial outlay.

Do I need to tell my energy supplier I have solar panels?

This depends on where you live, but in most cases, it’s not necessary to inform your energy supplier that you have solar panels. That said, you may be producing excess power with your solar system, in which case you may be able to sell that excess power back to energy companies.

In this case, you’ll naturally need to be in contact with them. 

What Are Solar Cells Known as and Why?

Solar cells are also called photovoltaic (PV) cells. They are called so because the term ‘photovoltaic’ literally means light i.e. photo and electricity i.e. voltaic.

These cells generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect. This effect basically causes the generation of free electrons from the semiconducting silicon material of the solar panel when sunlight hits its surface.

What Type of Solar Panels Are Most Efficient and Why?

There are currently three types of solar panels available in the market that are:
1. Monocrystalline
2. Polycrystalline
3. Thin-filmed

Among these, monocrystalline solar panels are known to be the most efficient among all others.

Does heat enter your home through the roof?

Absolutely. Heat enters your home through your roof, and on a hot day your attic can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Through conduction, heat from the sun warms your roof which then warms your attic and the rest of your home.

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