Solar energy is considered by many to be the future of electricity worldwide. Cities from Houston to Mumbai are embracing massive rooftop and rural solar infrastructure, a largely standardized system of fixed panels positioned to optimize sun intake at peak times. Only the most sophisticated adjustable panels which track the sun, however, are capable of absorbing the maximum amount of daylight allowed by the technology, meaning that the average immovable panel loses a significant amount of available energy.
Researchers at the University of Michigan sought to develop a solar energy system that could absorb the most daylight possible while reducing the carbon footprint from production of the panels themselves. The results are surprisingly beautiful: through the application of the ancient Japanese art of Kirigami, a variation of Origami, the researchers were able to capture up to 40 percent more sunlight than traditional panels.
The premise of the idea is simple: by making strategic cuts in conventional solar film and attaching it to a simple tracking system, the panels can follow the sun throughout the day to capture its brightest rays. The Kirigami cut was chosen by the researchers because it avoids casting shadows on the panels and is able to move without damaging the fragile solar film. When pulled at both ends, the film shifts to create a unique three-dimensional panel capable of adjustment throughout the day, in coordination with movement of the sun.
The application of the Kirigami cut can generate between 20 and 40 percent more electricity using the same amount of semiconducting solar material. The development proposed by the University of Michigan researchers allows the solar film to move between two panes of glass with the help of a simple movement system, eliminating the need to pivot the entire panel and solving an essential problem for 80 percent of solar panel systems installed on pitched rooftops.
Tested using panels built of flexible gallium arsenide, the project is in the early stages of testing for commercial use. The team at University of Michigan are optimistic for the widespread application of the Kirigami cut in the emerging solar market and have already begun to develop the necessary infrastructure to accompany the delicate panels.