New Solar Panel Technologies Greatly Increase Power Output
Solar panel technologies offer the potential to generate enormous amounts of power while being environmentally friendly. However, they have faced a number of barriers to widespread acceptance, due to efficiency and other limitations. That’s why recent news from MIT researchers is so exciting. They have developed a way to use three-dimensional design techniques to increase solar panel output by as much as 20 times that of traditional flat arrays.
Rooftop panels are limited in how much power they collect by the location of the sun. When it’s directly overhead, they are very effective, but this diminishes in the mornings and evenings. The collection amount is also reduced in winter and in areas far from the equator.
Aware of this, the MIT researchers set out to determine the ideal shape for panels. They tested a number of configurations in a variety of latitudes, weather conditions, and seasons of the year, using a computer algorithm. After that, they settled on three designs, which they built models of and installed on the roof of the MIT lab building.
The solar cell arrays out-performed traditional flat panels, creating anywhere from two to 20 times the amount of electricity. The power output was also more consistent over time, even after the effects of clouds and shadows were taken into account.
Each of the designs is accordion-shaped and is meant to be vertically mounted on rooftops. According to Jeffrey Grossman, the study’s senior author, they could also be installed on parking garages to provide power for vehicles that run on electricity.
Solar energy has long been touted as an answer to the world’s energy needs, but several limitations have prevented its widespread adoption. One of these is the cost of manufacture versus the amount of energy produced by these solar panel technologies.
“Even 10 years ago, this idea wouldn’t have been economically justified because the modules cost so much,” said Grossman in a recent interview. However, these costs have been falling in recent years, leading him and his colleagues to believe that now is an ideal time to explore new types of panels.
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