Flooding, droughts, destructive wildfires, and more natural disasters are taking place across the globe, growing more common and extreme with climate change. The climate emergency has heightened the need to change how humans interact with the world, including the ways we get energy, and researchers may have found a renewable energy source in rain. Although it will take time before rain can be used to power your home, it's a step in the right direction.
The idea of using water to generate power isn't new. Some of the earliest forms of hydropower can be traced back thousands of years to the use of water for mechanical milling. In 2016, rain was even used to power solar cells. However, everything can be improved on, and researchers led by scientists from City University of Hong Kong (CityU) sought to develop a more efficient model for rain power.
Last week, in a study published in Nature, researchers outlined their creation of a rain-powered generator. With a single drop of water, the generator could produce 140V, which is enough power to briefly light 100 small LED bulbs. The team also found that water droplets can continuously hit the generator, like natural rainfall, and it will collect the charge and reach a saturation point.
To Professor Wang Zuankai, one of the lead researchers, this study can have a global impact. Wang told Science Daily, "Generating power from raindrops instead of oil and nuclear energy can facilitate the sustainable development of the world."
From taking inspiration from croissants to even leveraging urine, researchers are exploring all types of ways to make renewable energy resources more efficient. In Denmark, Wavestar, an alternative energy company, has looked into ways to better use water, too. The company hoped their machine that utilizes ocean waves would one day produce enough energy to power up to 4,000 homes. Of course, there's an obvious downside that CityU researchers pointed out in their own study.
"Traditional hydraulic power primarily uses electromagnetic generators that are heavy, bulky, and become inefficient with low water supply," researchers wrote. There's a clear need to not only find more efficient energy conversions for water power, but to also move away from massive machines.
Right now, there's still a lot of work to be done. Researchers have to figure out how to get enough continuous power to actually, well, power anything for sustained periods. Still, their generator is an obvious way to counter traditional models. In the future, it could be installed onto just about any surface, from rooftops to boats or even your umbrella.