Night Solar Panels: Benefits and Applications

When we talk of solar panels, the basic idea that everyone perceives is that they require the sun to operate. 

But what do we do in places with no sunlight throughout the day? Or when you need energy but the sun has gone down? Night solar panels were born to solve this issue.  

Scientists at the University of California Davis, US, came up with a unique idea to solve this issue in 2020. 

Termed ‘anti-solar cells,’ these could use the energy from the night sky to power themselves. 

The original study took place at Stanford University in California, where Shanhui Fan and his colleagues worked on an off-the-shelf solar cell and tried adding a thermoelectric generator and studied the results. 

So, is there a solar panel that works at night and is available for commercial usage, and if there is one, how do they work? We answer it all about night solar panels in this article. 

Is there a solar panel that works at night?

While technically, it is impossible for a solar panel to work at night and generate power, Jeremy Munday of the University of California, Davis, and Tristan Deppe, conceptualized the idea of night solar panels. 

What are night solar panels? 

Night solar panels use a Thermo-reactive cell that makes it possible to generate electricity even when the sun is down. This way, they can tap the heat or infrared light falling on the panel’s surface to generate electricity. 

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How do night solar panels work?  

In essence, the nighttime solar cells work similar to how we are used to seeing usual solar panels work, but only in reverse. 

So, a traditional cell is usually made of silicon or another semiconducting material and generates electricity when sunlight falls on its surface. 

The addition of a thermoelectric generator, a device that uses temperature differences to produce current, added a new dimension to the idea of how solar panels generate power. 

At night time, these panels reach a temperature below the surrounding air temperature. 

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It was an opportunity for reverse engineering, and the scientists were able to eke out a power output of 50 milliwatts per square meter. 

While this is only a fraction, 0.04% to be precise, of the production of a regular solar panel when the sun is up, it is enough to power devices that require low power consumption. 

Another advantage it offers is you do not need to have battery storage which helps cut down costs and reduce the usage of resources. 

Further, Munday is using the prototype to work on a more advanced version of night solar panels that can generate around a quarter of its usual daytime output at night. 

Potential benefits of night solar panels

The addition of night time solar panels can used for various purposes like:

  • It allows owners to harvest energy even during nighttime and reduce the dependence on battery and storage when the sun is down.
  • These would mainly be useful for places with low annual sunshine hours where there is significant demand for electricity, but the supply is low.
  • They reduce dependence on batteries which are usually costly and difficult to store.

Potential applications of night solar panels

While these are in the prototyping stage, and we are yet to experience what they can do, here are some of the perceivable applications that night solar panels may find – 

  • They can be used in off-grid locations for completing low-power tasks when the sun is down.
  • As of now, users can use them to charge their smartphones and other chores that require low power usage.
  • They can be used in regular homes for powering low-power hogging gadgets during nighttime.
  • If a large number of these are used in unison, they can be good enough to power homes once their efficiency improves.
  • These can be used in rural areas that suffer from frequent power cuts because of power shortages.


While the idea of night solar panels is novel and deserves applause, there is a long way before it becomes mainstream. 

Given the plethora of challenges involved, not many are currently appreciable of it because of the added complexities it brings. 

But let’s  suppose scientists are able to improve the tech and find ways to enhance its power generation abilities significantly. In that case, these can act as a substitute for regular solar panels and reduce our dependence on batteries for effortless operation.