Magazine article ASEE Prism

Innovations Bloom

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Innovations Bloom

Article excerpt

Thanks to falling prices and increasing efficiencies, solar technology is becoming mainstream and mature. Still, there's room for improvement. In the United States, around 85 percent of solar panel installations are on home rooftops. Motorized photovoltaic cells that can track the sun are 40 percent more efficient than stationary panels, but they're too heavy for residential use. Researchers at the University of Michigan have a possible solution: flat solar panels composed of arrays of smaller cells that tilt within each panel to keep their surfaces in line with the sun's movement across the sky. The researchers used a method devised from the ancient Japanese art of paper cutting called kirigami. They used lasers to cut patterns in flat sheets of a plastic to which solar cells were then affixed. The sheets become flexible, wavy meshes of ribbons that, when stretched, allow the cells to tilt toward the sun. …

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