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US Navy experimenting with underwater solar panels

US naval scientists have made a major breakthrough in solar energy production, announcing last week (June 7) that they have developed functioning underwater solar cells.

Phillip Jenkins, head of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Imagers and Detectors Section, explained the difficulties involved in generating solar electricity underwater.

"Although water absorbs sunlight, the technical challenge is to develop a solar cell that can efficiently convert these underwater photons to electricity," said Mr Jenkins.

It is hoped that the technology will be used in the future to power underwater sensors, which were severely limited in the past by a lack of long-term energy supplies. Forced to rely on batteries or underwater cables, these sensors were expensive and hard to maintain.

Early results show that at a maximum depth of 9.1 meters, the underwater cells are able to generate seven watts per square meter.

That's enough to indicate that "there is useful solar power to be harvested at depths commonly found in nearshore littoral zones," according to the NRL.

While this will not have any immediate effects on electricity prices in Australia, could the future see enormous underwater solar panels powering our cities?

Only time will tell.

Posted by Charlie Moore