Michigan – Researchers, engineers and an artist from the University of Michigan have developed a new design for solar cells, borrowed from kirigami, the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting. These new solar cells will be able to collect 36% more solar energy than conventional panels due to its new ability to extent and follow the sun throughout the day.

Solar cells can capture 40% more energy when tracking the sun across the sky. However, according to the US Department of Energy, 85 percent of all solar panel installations in the country are on residential rooftops and rooftops are not made to support conventional motorized trackers since they are too heavy.

Kirigami solar cells. Is not the first time kirigami is used in industrial design. Credits: Engadget

However, the lattice-like strips of the solar cells, made by this team from the University of Michigan, help to track the sun without using a motorized tracker. “The design takes what a large tracking solar panel does and condenses it into something that is essentially flat,” said Aaron Lamoureux, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering and first 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,” said Max Shtein, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. “But inside, it would be doing something remarkable on a tiny scale: the solar cell would split into tiny segments that would follow the position of the sun in unison.”

How does it work?

In the terms of solar cell researchers, tracking means how much the sun can “see” of a solar panel. When conventional panels are at an angle, it looks smaller. But when the sun rays come in at lower angles, the spreading and tilting of the cells increase the amount of solar energy that is being captured and turned into electricity.

Kirigami solar cells developed by University of Michigan Researchers. Credit: Engadget

The effectiveness of the design accounts for its ability to stretch easily, which allows a lot of tilt without loosing much width. According to the team is just as effective as the conventional panels that use trackers.

“Dynamic kirimagi structures for integrated solar tracking” is the name given to the paper of the team’s work. National Science Foundation and NanoFlex Power Corporation funded the study.

Because of the effectiveness of the project, the University of Michigan has applied for a patent and is looking for partners to bring the technology to the market. “We think it has significant potential, and we’re actively pursuing realistic applications,” said Shtein. “It could ultimately reduce the cost of solar electricity.”

Solar Cells in the US

The US is among the top countries in the world to generate electricity from the Sun and several utility-scale installations from all over the world find its place in the Southwest desert.

As stated in the US Department of Energy’s website, solar power is more affordable and prevalent in the United States than before. There is now enough capacity to power the equivalent of 4 million average American homes due to the growth of installations. Since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels has dropped more than 60% and the cost of a solar electric system has dropped by about 50%.

Moreover, it helps to generate more jobs, for the ones related to this industry have increased about 22% since November 2013, which is ten times the national average job growth rate. One out of 78 new jobs created in the US over the past 12 months come from the solar industry.

Source: Michigan Engineering