The Massachusetts Institute of Tehcnology ‘s (MIT) answer to creating a high efficiency solar panel takes shape in the form of 3D, origami folding structures.
When someone says solar panel, we think flat, sleek-looking installations in open fields or onroof tops. The panels are intentionally flat to avoid "shadowing"(covered areas that would reduce efficiency). MIT wants to expand this preconception, and its researchers havediscovered that covering 3D structures with solar cells coulddramatically improve efficiency. Better yet, they could do so whiletaking up a limited mount of space.
First and foremost, unless a solar panel is on an expensive trackingsystem, its efficiency is at the mercy of the hours in the day when itreceives optimum exposure.
But when you consider the example of a tree–something that inspired Jeffrey Grossman at MIT’s Department of Materials Science andEngineering (DMSE)–and how it spreads its leaves to capturesunlight, the biological question of how shapes evolve seems to providean answer.
Grossman paired up with graduate student Marco Bernardi to create acomputer program that mimicked biological evolution.
Starting with basic shapes and letting them evolve for millions ofgenerations, Grossman and Bernardi were able to ascertain which shapescould produce relatively constant power throughout the day.
The findings were impressive. Certain systems could produce up to 2.5 times more energy than current solar arrays, and required no trackingfrom their current position.
The idea is that any light reflected or lost from one panel could bepicked up and absorbed by others.
With a 1,000 square-foot area, flat solar panels generate about 50kilowatt hours daily. In comparison, the newly discovered 3-D structure researchers came up with could harvest more than 60 kilowatt hours each day with a single structure about 6 feet high.
A structure 33 feet high could harvest 120 kilowatt hours daily.
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