Solar panels are traditionally placed on rooftops to harvest solar energy when the sun is directly overhead. In this setup, photovoltaic (PV) or solar cells convert light energy into electrical energy.
Most solar panels convert the sun’s energy into electricity at a rate of 15%. However, when there are changes in the angle at which the rays of the sun hit the solar panels, the rate of efficiency decreases.
While more experimental photovoltaic panels such as concentrating solar panels tend to increase the rate to 40%, MIT researchers have experimented with 3D solar panels that increase output and decrease inefficiencies at the same time.
The MIT Study
The researchers studied the problem of collecting solar energy in three dimensions and showed that absorbers and reflectors can be combined to build three-dimensional photovoltaic (3DPV) structures that can generate energy higher by a factor of 2–20 than stationary flat PV panels (as in roof-mounted solar panels, for example).
They found out that 3DPV structures can lessen some variability inherent in solar PV because they provide a more even source of solar energy generation at all latitudes and concluded that harnessing solar energy in three dimensions can open new avenues towards Terawatt-scale generation.
The models resemble accordions with the panels arranged vertically which can be useful where there are space constraints.
Building Your Own 3D Solar Array
The 3D solar array technology has progressed up to the point that you can build your own. In fact, there are many DIY guides on the subject. One such guide is the Backyard Revolution which provides a simple method in building your own 3D solar array.