Research highlight

Materials science: Tracking the sun with kirigami solar cells

Nature Communications

September 9, 2015

A new technique that may potentially improve the efficiency of solar tracking in solar panels is reported this week in Nature Communications. The ability of standard solar panels to track the Sun changes over the course of the day, which results in overall efficiency losses, but this study presents a new way to maximize exposure to the Sun.

Conventional methods for tracking the Sun so that solar energy can be harvested throughout the day involve expensive and bulky equipment to facilitate tilting of the solar panels, while at the same time supporting the system’s weight. Max Shtein and colleagues show that, by cutting a two-dimensional pattern into a solar cell and stretching it, they can produce tilted solar cell arrays in three dimensions. The researchers have referred to their new technique as ‘kirigami’ because it mimics the Japanese art of paper cutting.

Adjusting the strain on the stretched solar cells allows the optical and mechanical properties to be optimized. Although this technique is still in the design phase and further research is needed, the tracking efficiencies measured by the researchers compete with conventional tracking systems, offering a simple and lightweight alternative that maximizes the efficiency of solar cells.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms9092

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