Some Simple Slices Could Help Solar Cells Track the Sun

Illustration for article titled Some Simple Slices Could Help Solar Cells Track the Sun

The vast majority of solar cells sit fixed in place on top of buildings — but that means they miss out on absorbing some energy, as the sun moves through the sky. Now, researchers suggest that a few simple cuts could help create simple solar cells that track the sunlight throughout the day.


Developed by researchers from the University of Michigan, this solar cell uses a trick borrowed from kirigami — which is a bit like origami, but allows cutting of paper in addition to the usual folding. By carefully cutting slits into a flexible solar cell, the team managed to create a sheet where the photovoltaic panels swivel as the two ends are pulled apart.

Fortunately, the motion of the system doesn’t detract from its performance. The researchers point out that the system moves in such a way that the cells never cast shadows on themselves, and the flexing of the hardware doesn’t affect its performance, either. Perhaps most importantly, this kind of motion would allow a normal solar cells to generate between 20 and 40 percent more energy per year than one that was fixed in place.

The system, however, is in the early stages of development: this is only really a proof-of-concept. In order to install such a system on a roof would require some kind of casing to protect it from the elements, along with a system of controls and motors to automate the motion. For now, then, it’s just a neat ideas — but one that could boost solar power efficiency hugely.

[Nature Communications via Technology Review]


Interesting idea.

But considering you still need a motion system, how much of an improvement would this get over a sun-tracking flat panel?

Since this is several strips, how much area will be lost to framing over a conventional device? Also, this movement is inherently more energy-inefficient than slowly rotating a panel along its mass center, I’d guess.

It’s an interesting idea, and I’m sure there are applications where it will beat traditional panels handily. But for a large scale installation, I have my doubts.