The less efficient solar panels become at reliably generating power all year round. And it's not just the shorter spans of sunlight during the winter months that are a problem; even a light dusting of snow can render solar panels ineffective. As a result of global warming, the winters are only going to get more severe, but there is at least one silver lining, as researchers from UCLA have come up with a way to harness electricity from all that snow
The technology they developed is called and a snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator (or snow TENG, for short) which generates energy from the exchange of electrons. If you have ever received a nasty shock when touching a metal door handle, you have already experienced the science at work here. As it falls to Earth, snowflakes are positively charged and ready to give up electrons. In fact, UCLA researchers (working with colleagues from the University of Toronto, McMaster University and the University of Connecticut) found that negative charge of silicone made it most effective for harvesting electrons when it came into contact with snowflakes
Details about the device they created were shared in a paper published in the Nano Energy journal, but it can be 3D printed on the cheap given Accessible silicone is for five bucks you can buy a spray of it at the hardware store as a lubricant. In addition to silicone, a non-metallic electrode is used, which results in the triboelectric generator being flexible, stretchable, and extremely durable.
Its creators believe it could be integrated into solar panel arrays so that when blanketed with snow in the winter months, they could continue to generate power. But the triboelectric generator has other potential uses too. Since it does not require batteries or charging, it could be used to create cheap, self-powered weather stations that can report back snowy conditions and how much has accumulated. It could also improve the activity trackers used by athletes competing in winter sports, allowing the movements of individual skis to be tracked and recorded which would provide valuable insights for athletes as they train to perfect their form
[UCLA via EurekAlert!]