MIT Study Shows Large Potential of 3D Solar Energy Generation


Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say that replacing flat solar panels with three-dimensional structures could make photovoltaic systems as much as 20 times more effective.

In a series of tests, the researchers found that such 3D structures are able to pick up light even when the sun is at lower angles, and that internal reflections within the 3D panels help increase the amount of captured light.

The structures also can double the number of peak hours of generation. Scientists say even a simple cube shape, open at the top and covered with photovoltaic cells, could produce 3.8 times more power than a flat panel covering the same area. (By comparison, costly solar-tracking mount technology — which moves photovoltaic panels to follow the path of the sun — generates only 1.8 times more energy).

While the more complex structures would be more expensive than typical flat panels, researcher Marco Bernardi says the extra power would compensate for the cost difference.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting. I’m not sure what the “increase by a factor of 20” refers to though.

    Currently, the best commercial panels capture 15% of the light energy striking the surface. Laboratory panels are as high as 25-30%. 20 times more efficient than 15% = 300% efficient, which would mean a panel is capturing 3x as much energy as strikes its surface – impossible. Light energy density is about 1000 W/m^2 and it shouldn’t matter if you try to capture that over a 2d surface or 3d volume. The area of the surface facing the sun is all that matters.

    The 3.8 improvement factor sounds reasonable though. Close to 80% efficiency! bring it on.