Using the Math and Magic of Origami to Increase Solar Efficiency


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Dear Friends & Visitors/Viewers/Readers,

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I just spent a full day at WordCamp 2012 at Orlando, FL, learning how much more I can improve this site.  Wow, I certainly have much to  do….thanks to all of those WordPress volunteers responsible for organizing this event!  Well done! Much appreciated!


Today’s post is an embellishment of May 7, 2012 post on Solar Future From The Eye of  a Twelve-Year-Old, Solar Cells in 3D .  Life is simply delicious when the confluence of my three hobbies, origami-math-solar, would play a part in our energy future by boosting the efficiency level of solar panel.  For those of you who have been following this site ( for almost two years, hopefully you have come to realize the three difficult triad historically associated with being the barrier to prevalent implementation of solar energy is: cost, efficiency, and battery storage.  Our previous post in Nov. 27, 2012, reported on dramatic decline in cost of solar energy. I will present to you, in today’s post, an interesting way to increase solar efficiency, followed by next post’s piece on battery storage.

Below is a wonderful presentation by Robert Lang, “The Math and Magic of Origami”, selected from TED talks, demonstrating the use of origami concept in increasing solar efficiency.

Regardless be it from researchers in MIT, Virginia Tech, or the teen William Yuan, they have all utilized the origami concept to dramatically boost the efficiency or power produced by solar panels (ranging from doubling to 20 times or more  than the traditional fixed flat panels, claimed by some researchers/experimenters).  The origami-like 3D solar structure is much more efficient than the flat panels, absorbing more light and generating more power than a flat panel containing the same area footprint.  The idea is that all unused light which has been reflected off one panel would be captured by other panels.  Panels of this type is most ideal in situation with limited space. “This was a fully ‘bio-inspired‘ idea. I was hiking up at Lake Tahoe in California and noticing the shapes of trees, and wondering, ‘Why do they have a given shape over another?'” said researcher Jeffrey Grossman, a theoretical physicist at MIT.  In the past researchers in photovoltaic panels have kept these panels mostly flat to prevent any shadow effect because shadowing would diminish the amount of light panels harvest.  Furthermore, 2D panels are easier to install on rooftops and better suited for large-scale fabrication techniques.  Scientists now use a genetic algorithm in a computer simulation to determine the optimal 3D shape for harvesting the largest amount of light for solar panels. This algorithm creates random combinations of flat, triangular, double-sided panels and analyze them in response to the sun’s movement across the sky. The best ones are selected to be mated to create “offspring”;this process is then repeated for millions of generations to see what might evolve.

A huge advantage of 3D solar panels is that they require no moving parts and generate an even flow of power throughout the day.  In order to achieve this with flat panels, they must be arranged on a tracking system that moves with the sun, “which is a big bummer, since you really don’t want any moving parts sitting on your rooftop,” Grossman said. Anything that moves can break easily and requires more maintenance.  It is exciting that this simple idea will ultimately help to reduce the cost of solar power. We wish much success with these researchers and experimentalists in coming up with the optimal, computer generated, 3D designs.

~have a bright and sunny day~

gathered, written, and posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker
Any of your questions, comments, suggestions will be welcomed at


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