Stacking Solar Cells Like Pancakes: Much Smarter Than It Sounds

Gahars

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When it comes to green energy, the odds are certainly stacked against us.

I'm sure many of you have seen at least one roof adorned with solar panels, especially as they become more and more common. Harnessing the power of the sun is not a new idea by any means, but with the recent push towards more environmental-friendly energy, it's now in with the cool crowd.

Of course, that's not to say it doesn't have critics. Many have made the argument that solar panels simply don't produce enough energy to be practical or efficient, for example, and it isn't without merit.

Now, however, scientists from MIT have come up with a solution (or partial solution, at least) to this problem by... well, you read the title. No, that's all it takes.

...a team of MIT researchers have stacked a bunch of photovoltaic solar cells together to produce up to 20 times the power output of conventional solar power installations.

The team built a variety of 3D designs, including a cube, and in all cases they produced between two and 20 times as much power as a flat panel. The most interesting facet of this discovery, though, is that these 3D stacks produce lots of extra power whenever the sun is near the horizon, i.e. in the morning, evening, winter, or at latitudes far away from the equator. With conventional, flat cells, it’s hard to capture low-angle light, but with an accordion structure (as pictured) the relative angle would be closer to 45 degrees.
Source: Extremetech

Who knew that the key to a scientific breakthrough could be found in a local IHOP? What other secrets does it hold?

I always love innovations like this, where they achieve great breakthroughs while making everyone in the room plant their face in their palm and mutter, "Why didn't I think of that?" Combined with other solar breakthroughs, this could be the push that the industry needs. At the very least, I'm sure they're taking it well... though it could be a little too well.
 
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RupeeClock

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Certainly looks like it would be cost-effective and easy to manufacture. How long until we see these sticking out of roofs and old chimneys?
That picture doesn't make it easy to tell how large those things are though.
 
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Tom Bombadildo

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Welp, looks like in the future I might have a giant cube of solar panels just sittin' in my yard. Cool.

Also, @Rupee if you look closely you can see what appears to be a bench in the background so I would assume those aren't very big,
 

Veho

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They didn't increase the efficiency of solar panels, they're just stacking more panels on the same surface area. This configuration increases the yield per square meter of land, but it requires a much bigger total surface of solar panels, and in fact the efficiency of each individual panel is actually decreased, since there are always panels not facing the sun.

tl;dr: 20 times the output, 50 times the cost.
 
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Costello

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They didn't increase the efficiency of solar panels, they're just stacking more panels on the same surface area. This configuration increases the yield per square meter of land, but it requires a much bigger total surface of solar panels, and in fact the efficiency of each individual panel is actually decreased, since there are always panels not facing the sun.

tl;dr: 20 times the output, 50 times the cost.
I thought the same, but it's so deadly obvious that I have to wonder -- why is everyone making it sound like it's revolutionary? to me it just looks like "more panels, different angles"

there has to be something I'm missing here... I refuse to believe that my reasoning suprasses that of MIT students/post graduates/researchers
 

Veho

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I thought the same, but it's so deadly obvious that I have to wonder -- why is everyone making it sound like it's revolutionary? to me it just looks like "more panels, different angles"
It says just that in the article.

but this one really is a bit of a no-brainer. The main issue with solar power (and its main cost) is its low energy density, and thus the sheer surface area required to generate a sizable amount of electricity. This is why you need to cover your whole roof with cells to power your light bulbs, and why solar power plants would have to occupy tens of square miles of desert to produce as much power as a nuclear power plant.

To combat this issue, MIT has built 3D stacks of photovoltaic cells. These have the same footprint of a conventional, flat solar power setup — but as you can see in the picture above, the total surface area is much, much larger.

So yeah, they found the way to cram a larger surface area of panels onto the same surface area of, say, your roof.

 

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On a plane configuration, ALL panels must be lighted equally to be efficient.
They are connected in series (I think), and if there's a shadow on even one panel, it decreases greatly the output power.

So, maybe they are compensating the decreased power from panels not facing the sun by more panels facing it?
But that make also more panels not facing it either on the other side :/
Maybe each sides are two different sets.

That's why there's more power at sunset (more faces are lit on the same ground surface), on zenith it's making shadow on itself and become less efficient.


I'll be curious to see a power comparison graphics.
 

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A cube model would certainly increase energy output, with the sunlight reflected to all panels in the cube regardless of the time of day.

Doesn't change the fact that solar cells are still inefficient and are too expensive for the trouble though
 

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im just waiting for more pure electric cars with solar panels built into them i think it will take Apple and hopefully Michigan to get back into the game and make cars again become the leading in the industry
 

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Help me understand here...

The main issue with solar cells is that if you want decent output, you have to cover a huge area with them. Right? Now the cells are vertical and produce a lot more power, yes? Well... they also cast a shadow equal in distance to their height, so while you ARE getting more power per square meter with a stack of these, you also have to leave a meter distance BETWEEN cell stacks to make sure they don't stand in eachother's shadow. Doesn't that render the entire benefit void?
 

Qtis

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Help me understand here...

The main issue with solar cells is that if you want decent output, you have to cover a huge area with them. Right? Now the cells are vertical and produce a lot more power, yes? Well... they also cast a shadow equal in distance to their height, so while you ARE getting more power per square meter with a stack of these, you also have to leave a meter distance BETWEEN cell stacks to make sure they don't stand in eachother's shadow. Doesn't that render the entire benefit void?
This method benefits especially from the time when the sun is low or you're farther away from the equator. In other words, you'll be getting more sunlight in the darker times. The problem with the overlapping sunlight is present already in the "modern" sun panels, but this one can make at least a big more per square meter. Also hitting a few of these on a roof would make it possible to not cover the whole roof with panels to make some electricity :)
 

dickfour

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The fact is solar energy is going to be pie in the sky nonsense for a long time to come. How many billions of tax payer money had been poured down a rat hole this year alone when many of the gov funded solar companies went tits up. Also solar uses many more tax $ than it generates. Count me a sceptic at least for the next 80 years
 

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