Solar panels are awesome.

But what happens when the sun goes down? Or it rains? Or when it’s technically spring, but it might snow again on the weekend because it’s Britain and you’ve forgotten what the warm touch of natural heat feels like?

New solar panels created by Chinese researchers take energy from the friction of falling raindrops, as well as the sun, so it’s an effective source of renewable energy all year round.

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Although it’s still in the early stages of development, reports suggest that it could also be used to create raincoats that can charge your electronic devices as you wear it.

It’s British Science Week — so it’s a good time to make it rain with facts.


The researchers from Soochow University in eastern China have placed two transparent polymer layers on top of a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell. Still with us? Basically, the solar cell still absorbs sunlight because of the top layer’s transparency. Meanwhile, that top layer collects the rain — and as it rolls down, the friction creates a static charge. 

“Our device can always generate electricity in any daytime weather,” said Baoquan Sun from Soochow University — one of three scientists on the project who shares a surname with their actual work. “In addition, this device even provides electricity at night if there is rain.”

It’s a simpler form of something that already exists. Triboelectric nanogenerators were invented back in 2012, but the new technology is the first to include the polymer layers — and it’s more compact, too. All it needs now is a catchy name.

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“Due to our unique device design, it becomes a lightweight device,” continued Sun. “In future, we are exploring integrating these into mobile and flexible devices, such as electronic clothes. However, the output power efficiency needs to be further improved before practical application.”

A prototype is expected within three to five years, according to the journal ACS Nano. The technology is also being used to experiment with wind power — which some experts believe is its most natural partner.

All this is super news for Britain — which, rumour has it, hasn’t seen the sun since England last won the World Cup. On a sunny day, the UK can produce 8GW of solar energy, a quarter of its total energy demand, but during the winter this can drop to just 1GW.

But a raincoat that can charge your iPhone? Did somebody say Glastonbury?

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals, including for affordable and clean energy. You can join us by taking action here. And on April 17 Global Citizen Live will be coming to London —  bringing Emeli Sandé, Professor Green, and more to O2 Academy Brixton in our fight to end extreme poverty.

Earn free tickets by taking action here to champion gender equality, nutrition, education, and global health.


Defend the Planet

Researchers Design Solar Panels to Harvest Energy Rain or Shine

By James Hitchings-Hales  and  Erica Sánchez