US Navy Scientists Make Solar Panels Work Underwater
By Kevin Lee
So far, scientists have been hard at work to maximize solar energy output by sticking photovoltaic materials in everything they can, or by pulling in sunlight from space. Scientists from the US Naval Research Laboratory’s Electronics Science and Technology Division, on the other hand, are devising an underwater solar energy plant.
The idea might seem scientifically backwards considering how much of the sun’s radiation is already reflected, diffused, and absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. Filtering sunlight through sea water would diffuse even more of the energy…but that’s all part of the plan.
The Navy scientists have created new solar panels made of high-quality gallium indium phosphide (GaInP) cells, as opposed to previous aquatic attempts that utilized crystalline, and more recently, amorphous silicon solar cells. These GaInP cells are specifically designed to absorb energy from the blue-green portion of the visible light spectrum that sits at wavelengths between 400 and 700 nanometers.
So far the team has proven that their underwater solar panels can operate at a depth of 9.1 meters (roughly 30 feet) and still output seven watts per square meter of solar cells.
While the idea of an underwater solar plant might sound cool, I imagine that sea animals and marine activists won’t like the addition of an artificial ceiling to the sea. Meanwhile, the underwater flora might take too much of a liking to it, and then we’ll have algae- and barnacle-encrusted solar panels installations…