Solar panels nowadays are flat, but folding them in origami-like ways could help dramatically boost the amount of power they could generate, scientists say.
Research into solar or photovoltaic panels thus far have kept them flat largely to prevent them from casting any shadows that might diminish the amount of light they could harvest. Two-dimensional panels are also far easier to install on rooftops and are well suited to standard large-scale fabrication techniques.
Computer simulations of 3-D solar panels. The one on the left consists of 64 flat, triangular, double-sided panels; the one on the right is a simplified version. Credit: Jeffrey Grossman et al.
Still, three-dimensional solar panels could in principle absorb more light and generate more power than a flat panel of the same area footprint, which could prove useful in circumstances where the available space is limited. The idea is that any light that might normally reflect unused off a solar panel surface could then get trapped on another panel.