Solar panels are becoming more efficient and affordable by the day, but their aesthetics leave much to be desired. Do you want to live in a world of flat, boring, two-dimensional photovoltaic squares? Of course not, and neither does Jeffrey Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering at MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), who, with the help of a student, has conjured up a vision for three-dimensional solar panels designed in assorted forms.
According to MIT News, Grossman was inspired by the way trees spread their leaves to capture sunlight. If such a technique worked well for trees, Grossman pontificated, wouldn’t it work just as well for solar panels? Grossman’s idea wasn’t a mere daydream: flat solar panels, he knew, capture and generate ample sunlight; but as the sun’s position changes, their power production varies.
In need of a computer program to simulate his theory, Grossman enlisted the help of second-year graduate student Marco Bernardi, who developed Grossman’s simulation. The program “mimics biological evolution, starting with basic shapes and letting them evolve, changing slightly each time and selecting those that perform best to start the next generation.” Their findings demonstrated the ability of such a system to generate mostly constant power throughout an entire day, as well as produce more power for a given area, approximately two and a half times that of a flat array.