Meanwhile, the scientific community continues to release studies showing that the need to address the threat posed by global warming is greater than ever and growing more dire all the time. At the end of last year, the premiere global authority on the state of global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released a report showing that compiled data and research indicates that in order to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial averages this century, we will have to cut global carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and down to zero by the middle of the century.
This is going to be extraordinarily difficult to do with just renewable resources. As Vox reports, explaining the tension between whether going 100 percent renewable is really an option, “at the heart of the debate is the simple fact that the two biggest sources of renewable energy — wind and solar power — are ‘variable.’ They come and go with the weather and time of day. They are not ‘dispatchable,’ which means they cannot be turned on and off, or up and down, according to the grid’s needs. They don’t adjust to the grid; the grid adjusts to them.”
A new breakthrough in clean energy, however, could change everything. A new “anti-solar panel” could be able to bridge the gap left by solar energy, collecting energy from the night sky. The thermoelectric generator-based device, developed by a team of researchers at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, harnesses the variance in temperature between Earth and outer space, by using “a passive cooling mechanism known as radiative sky cooling to maintain the cold side of a thermoelectric generator several degrees below ambient” according to the researchers study, published in the scientific journal Joule.
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The study, titled “Generating Light from Darkness” goes on to explain the energy-producing process in further detail: “We use a passive cooling mechanism known as radiative sky cooling to maintain the cold side of a thermoelectric generator several degrees below ambient. The surrounding air heats the warm side of the thermoelectric generator, with the ensuing temperature difference converted into usable electricity. We highlight pathways to improving performance from a demonstrated 25 mW/m2 to 0.5 W/m2. Finally, we demonstrate that even with the low-cost implementation demonstration here, enough power is produced to light a LED: generating light from darkness.”
So far, the groundbreaking device has only been tested at a very small scale. A 20-centimeter prototype was tested by Stanford last winter, and the small test successfully created enough energy to power a single small LED lightbulb--a small success with immeasurably massive potential. As ScienceNews reports, “A bigger version of this nighttime generator could someday light rooms, charge phones or power other electronics in remote or low-resource areas that lack electricity at night when solar panels don’t work.”
The technology is still under development, and the researchers have already planned improvements including enhanced insulation around the top plate that could potentially raise the device’s energy production to 0.5 watts per square meter or more, but the potential outcomes are boundless. If this technology could eventually be refined to produce anywhere close to as much energy as a standard solar panel, it would completely transform the renewable energy sector, making it a far greater contender to take the place of fossil fuels.