Clean energy is all the rage nowadays, but current technology is limiting its widespread adoption. Hydro and wind power are tough for the average person to make use of, and solar energy, though more accessible, can still be quite expensive to set up.
Even if price wasn't an issue, current solar panel tech relies on consistent sunlight to remain fully active. That's just fine during the long days of summer, but as the Starks say, Winter is coming - and when it does, those expensive panels can become little more than overpriced roof decorations in some parts of the US. This is primarily due to the season's shorter days and the fact that even a light dusting of snow can inhibit a solar panel's ability to generate energy.
Fortunately, an unconventional solution might be on the way. A research team working out of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has developed a "snow-based triboelectric nanogenerator." That's quite a mouthful, so researchers have shortened the name to "snow TENG."
So, what exactly does this snow TENG do? In short, it generates power from -- you guessed it -- snowfall. Because snow is positively charged, researchers discovered that they could make the snow TENG out of an oppositely-charged material (as well as an electrode) to create static electricity when snow makes contact with it.
"While snow likes to give up electrons, the performance of the device depends on the efficiency of the other material at extracting these electrons," UCLA researcher Maher El-Kady explained a statement. "After testing a large number of materials including aluminum foils and Teflon, we found that silicone produces more charge than any other material."
Amazingly, the generator does not require its own source of power and is remarkably affordable to create. It is also very thin and flexible, which should make it quite resistant to the elements. UCLA likens the snow TENG's design to a "sheet of plastic" (no photos have been provided yet).
El-Kady says that the snow TENG could be implemented into existing solar panel arrays, effectively giving regions with both strong summer and winter seasons year-round green energy.
To be clear, this technology is still in early development, and it's probably far from efficient at the moment. As such, don't expect to be able to go to the store and pick up a snow TENG of your own anytime soon. Still, it's exciting to think that snow power may eventually become a viable alternative to wind, solar, and hydro-based energy in the future.
Mid image courtesy Getty via Gizmodo