Inspired by the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting, researchers at the University of Michigan have developed solar cells that can track the sun, enabling them to capture nearly 40 per cent more energy than stationary solar cells.
By borrowing from kirigami, the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting, the University of Michigan researchers came up with an array of small solar cells that can tilt within a larger panel, keeping their surfaces more perpendicular to the sun’s rays.
“The design takes what a large tracking solar panel does and condenses it into something that is essentially flat,” says Aaron Lamoureux, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering and lead author on the paper in Nature Communications.
“The beauty of our design is, from the standpoint of the person who’s putting this panel up, nothing would really change,” adds Max Shtein, associate professor of materials science and engineering.
The array consists of a flat plastic sheet backing the solar cells that splits into wavy, connected ribbons when stretched. By designing an array that tilts and spreads apart when the sun’s rays are coming in at lower angles, they raise the effective area that is soaking up sunlight.
The team’s solar panel array was able to produce 36 per cent more energy than a stationary panel. While conventional trackers are able to produce around 40 per cent more energy than stationary panels, these are generally too heavy and bulky for pitched rooftops. Residential rooftops make up around 85 per cent of solar panel installations in the US.
The researchers believe that their invention could ultimately reduce the cost of solar electricity by boosting output and lowering installation cost.
Photo credit: Aaron Lamoureux