Navy Scientists Develop Underwater Solar Panels

Navy research scientists have developed a solar panel that works underwater. And that's good news because there aren't wall sockets down there.

There’s a lot worth researching in oceans, rivers, and other bodies of water, from different kinds of pollutants to acidification levels. Scientists have gotten pretty good at creating underwater sensors for these projects, but they’ve always been held back by various constraints—including, unsurprisingly, the lack of good underwater power sources. As one UCSD researcher put it in 2009, "Working underwater means you don’t have access to a wall socket for plug-in power." But the world of underwater power might change thanks to a recent discovery out of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, where scientists have made a breakthrough with underwater solar cells.

Underwater solar power might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but Navy researchers are making it happen. The problem with generating solar power underwater, in a nutshell, has been that most solar cells are built to absorb the entire spectrum of radiation spewed out by the sun—much of which is absorbed by water, rendering it useless. But some of the sun’s radiation—specifically, blue-green light—is not so easily absorbed (that’s what gives the ocean its blue-green color). Navy scientists just had to come up with a solar cell that focused on turning blue-green light into electricity, and, presto—a brand new underwater power source.

Solar power currently provides just a tiny, tiny fraction of the electricity used in the United States, but it has the potential to take care of pretty much all of our energy needs. Underwater solar cells aren’t going to lead to a sudden abundance of usable solar energy, but they’re probably going to help us learn more about what’s happening in our oceans. And if the technology gets even better, who knows what kinds of underwater gadgets we’ll be able to power.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.