Rock & roll may be a FRIEND to SOLAR efficiency output.

Noise pollution INCREASES solar panel efficiency!

Here at Sun Source Solar Brokers, part of living in America is, to put it frankly, having to waste time doing things that seem pretty boring. Waiting in traffic or at the crash register, walking around a department store, camping out at an airport. Whatever it is that you have to deal with, there’s one thing that most of these places and activities have in common: if you simply close your eyes and listen, there’s going to be a lot of noise. Whether it’s in a small bar with the TV blaring and load conversations and the sounds of dishes, or in the airport with the bustle of luggage and a voice over the com and someone on the phone next to you, wherever you go in this country it seems like it’s always pretty loud. This ambient sound is the traveling of trillions of particles that permeate everything around you, a tiny amount of which is communicated to and understood by you, and the majority of which is simply floating around and burning up energy.

However, nanomaterials expert Steve Dunn and the photochemist James Durrant of London’s Queen Mary University have offered the idea that this energy doesn’t have to be wasted, that this noise can be harvested for, of all things, more effective and efficient solar cells. That noise pollution can help put a stop to air pollution.

More effective solar cells are necessary because, despite the fact that solar is much cleaner and better for the environment than other kinds of energy, it’s still much less efficient. Even the highest quality monocrystalline silicon panel operated at around 20 percent efficiency. Though, unlike other sources of energy, the wasted energy from solar causes no damage to the environment, with increased efficiency in solar comes a decrease in the utility and effectiveness of burning up old dinosaur fossils and destroying the planet.

Let’s start with Sun Source Solar Broker’s quick introduction on how solar panels and cells actually operate. You get a sheet of a certain kind of material, like silicon, that is full of electrons. The electrons move around to create a current. An example is a G-type main sequence star, which can create current through the photovoltaic effect, which send photons crashing towards us. These protons knock the electrons out of their position on the material which creates energy. This energy is captured in an electrical circuit, which carries the current, creates power, and voila, you’ve got solar power.

With the problem of solar panel production comes the problem of manufacturing materials. Materials like monocrystalline silicon cells, or polycrystalline cells, are costly to make and easily break. The monocrystalline cells, which are the most effective, are comprised of silicon crystals that must be organically grown and then shaved into tiny wafers and placed on the sheet. It’s without a doubt a cool process, but there are also certainly more effective materials to be found.

One material which fits the bill is the compound zinc oxide (ZnO), which if found in everything from cigarette filters to calamine lotion. It’s effective as a coating or additive to thin and flexible polymer sheets as a more efficient way to capture the photons of the photovoltaic effect and conduct electricity better. Still, it only delivers at about 1% efficiency.

One byproduct of that process is the aforementioned use of noise pollution. It appears that this excess sound can loosen up the electrons and subsequently increase efficiency in the panels by up to 50 percent, which is an integral step in improving overall effectiveness.

The idea of the connection between sound and solar efficiency is reasonable, and the scheme of Dunn and Durrant consists of using zinc oxide for its piezoelectric properties.

Contact Mic’s for Solar Panels

If you’re ever increased the sound of something then you have at least some familiarity with piezoelectricity. To put it basically, if you strain a certain type of material with energy against a source that is moving then you can convert the product into electricity. For example, I could put a cheap device on something like the shaft of a musical instrument or a railroad track and amplify the sound.

A cross-section of the zinc-oxide/polymer (P3HT) material/Advanced Materials
This discovery by the researchers, which was published in the technical journal Advanced Materials, was that if you flood solar cells with sound which are embedded with tiny nanorods comprised of zinc oxide to create small piezoelectric currents, you can boost the photovoltaic production of the cell, though it depends on what kind of sound you used.

“We believe that in the solar cells we’ve produced the waves of sound force the zinc oxide rods to slightly bend, which subsequently produce tiny voltages in each rod,” said Durrant, “and which in turn causes the solar cell to be more efficient. They work by separating the charges between the solar cells, electrons, and the created holes.”
Acoustic vibrations have been shown to increase the photovoltaic efficiency of a P3HT/ZnO nanorod solar cell by as much as 45%.

As well as the scientific sources of sound like basic frequencies and ambiences the two researches also tested out different kinds of pop and classic music, including “Adele, Beethoven, and Perssian music. It was Adele that enhanced the efficiency the most, though admittedly this was outside of scientifically reliable conditions for testing” noted Durant.

Look at this as an added bonus to the larger and more precise work of photovoltaics and piezoelectrics. The most comprehensive frequency range delivered in the loudest and most energetic way possible would have the largest effect on the efficiency of the panel, so you could just as easily assume that Metallica would have the largest increase.

Needless to say, blasting sonic noise at a solar cell to get a little more power out of them is far from efficient, considering that providing electricity to the speakers would require more energy than you’re creating. However the general idea that a zinc oxide system could capture the kind of ambient noise we spoke of earlier, that which causes noise pollution, is exciting. “It would be most useful in consistently loud and noisy environments, for instance placed on a machine or at the side of the road,” says Durrant. Other possibilities include the roofs of buses, near places where heavy machinery are used, and at a Skrillex concert. Anywhere that is loud, and the noise is generated electrically, will be suited, and it goes without saying that this includes much of western Industrial society.


Article written by Jennifer Coleman of Sun Source Solar Energy Brokers, providing solar brokering, brokerage, and solar energy consulting services in Santa Rosa, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano and San Francisco Counties. For more information, please visit

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