A team of engineers form the University of Michigan found a clever way of boosting solar panel’s energy output without even increasing the amount of conducting material. The team made used of Kirigami, a variation of Japanese paper folding art that requires scissors to cut paper, to design a type of flexible solar panels that can track the sun over the course of one day.
That feat is not that easy to attain with conventional solar panels because you need to tilt the entire panel to make it adjust to the sun’s trajectory. But Kirigami-inspired technology allows solar panels to maximize their energy output without having to use motors in the process.
University of Michigan engineers argued that the new technology would allow solar panel to store 20 to 40 percent more energy every year than conventional solar panels. The team explained that they used precise cuts to create the best angles to which solar panels can adjust while tracking the sun.
Moreover, the desired angle is achieved by just pulling apart the two ends of the solar panel. Then, the flexible solar panel unfolds into strips embedded with solar cells that can atain different angles. The angles however do not allow the strips to cast a shadow over the rest of the solar panel, the team noted.
Moreover, although the panel may look wavier when it tries to track the sun, that doesn’t affect its overall performance, said Max Shtein, lead author of the study and materials science expert at the university.
During his research, Max Shtein was assisted by his fellow researcher Stephen Forrest, who is also a materials science expert.
The Kirigami-inspired solar panels may be a solution to current solar panel tracking systems, which are costly and not that easy to install. Only a few of solar panels worldwide are equipped with such systems and they don’t work in residential areas. Conventional tracking systems need to move around the entire panel which is impossible if the panel is attached to a rooftop. And residential solar panel account for 80 percent of all installations.
The research team said that their new solar panel system can generate just about the same energy output traditional systems can. The panels are made of gallium arsenide-based solar cells but more work needs to be done to make them commercially viable.
As a follow-up, the engineering team will focus on finding a system to protect the flexible panels against extreme temperatures and the most appropriate method of pulling the solar panel strips apart at specific moments during the day.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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