Mind & Matter


Optimizing Solar Arrays

Submit A Comment | View Comments

Gemasolar power-generating array in Seville, Spain. Photo by GeoEye.

One of the drawbacks of solar energy is that it requires a lot of space. Photovoltaic and solar thermal arrays require a large amount of room, and they are not always as efficient as they might be—due to panels shading each other as they move to track the sun throughout the day.

A recent report in The Economist tells of a more effective arrangement, based on biomimicry. Scientists Alexander Mitsos and Corey Noone of the Massachusetts Instititute of Technology developed a computer model to determine the optimal arrangement to decrease shading interference as well as space requirements in concentrated solar plants. The best outcome, it turns out, results from an arrangement called the Fermat spiral, in which each element is rotated at 137 degrees relative to its neighbor. As the researchers realized, this geometry is evident in sunflowers, and saves up to 16 percent more space than the conventional semi-circular array.

This potent example of "performative geometry" suggests that planners and manufacturers of other renewable power systems look to nature for optimal solutions. As The Economist aptly concludes, "there really is nothing new under the sun."


Comments (2 Total)

  • Posted by: paria | Time: 1:16 PM Thursday, July 05, 2012


    Report this as offensive

  • Posted by: ChrisYAHanWatcher4YAH | Time: 3:37 PM Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Properly oriented and deployed; Tracking array racks, can minimize the: "Watts per square Foot," spatial requirments, associated to the Foot Prints of geo-physical spatial requirments; requisitive for needed WATTS for project supplications!

    Report this as offensive

Comment on this Post

Post your comment below. If you wish, enter a username and password though they are not required. Please read our Content Guidelines before posting.


Enter the code shown in the image

Username is optional


Enter a password if you want a username


About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.