Solar Energy Generation in Three-Dimensions

Optimizing the conversion of solar energy to electricity is central to the World’s future energy economy. 

Flat photovoltaic panels are commonly deployed in residential and commercial rooftop installations using simple installation guidelines to optimize solar energy collection. Large-scale solar energy generation plants use bulky and expensive sun trackers to avoid cosine losses from photovoltaic panels or to concentrate sunlight with mirrors onto heating fluids.
However, none of these systems take advantage of the three-dimensional nature of our biosphere, so that solar energy collection largely occurs on flat structures in contrast with what is commonly observed in Nature.

Three-dimensional photovoltaic structures are capable to 

  1. generate energy densities higher by a factor of 2 – 20 than flat PV panels
  2. double the number of useful peak hours
  3. reduce the seasonal and latitude
  4. reduce installing time and labor costs
  5. create a technical space for system integration and storage
  6. installed in densely inhabited urban environments

1) Higher generated energy per base area (kWh/m2) 

3D photovoltaic structures can increase the generated energy density by a factor linear in the structure height 

Absorbers and reflectors are combined in the absence of sun tracking to build three-dimensional photovoltaic that can generate measured energy densities (energy per base area, kWh/m2) higher by a factor of 2 – 20 than flat PV panels for a given day and location 

2) Daily Useful Peaks 

3D multiple orientations of the absorbers allow for the effective capture of off-peak sunlight, and the re-absorption of light reflected within the 3D structure (reflection regain). 

  • Peaks in power generation from 3D structures correspond to the presence of few scattered clouds or high altitude overcasting, that likely act as an ideal source of diffuse light.
    Such effects combine together 
    1. to yield an increase in the daily energy generation of 3D (relative to the flat panel case) even higher in cloudy weather
      conditions than for clear weather
    2. since the power generation is off-peak, the standard energy consumption of both residential and industrial demand will be
      covered by the photovoltaic production, reducing dramatically the need of energy storage
    3. the off-peak energy generation levels power load and reduce the strain on the grid. The grid will not suffer of high peaks during the day resulting in a more stable and reliable, without any extra-cost related to renewable energy storage and ultracapacitors back-up systems.

3) Seasonal and latitude 

3D structures collect most of the morning and afternoon sunlight by their sides, with a resulting dramatic increase in the generated power. 

• 3D photovoltaic has lower variation in the energy generation due to season, for the same physical reason leading to reduced latitude variability – namely, a greater ability to collect sunlight when the sun is at low elevation compared to a flat panel. 

4) Solar Plant Installing Time and Labor Costs 

3D Photovoltaics are modular industrialized structures reducing 

installing time and labor costs 

The higher area of PV material per unit of generated energy compared to flat panels is a main disadvantage to 3D Photovoltaic. But , the module is not the main cost in PV, and non-module costs such as labor installing costs and on-site workforce are dominating 

Since the module cost will impact less and less the total cost of PV systems in the future, the overall generated energy density will become a dominant figure of merit for PV 

5) 3D Technical Space available for Storage and System Integration 

Since the 3D structure leaves an empty space inside, we use it to store batteries and inverters. 

and to integrate the PV production with different technologies such us heating pumps for residential use, WIFI Hotspot for outdoor, sensors and solutions to support specific marketing and advertising, air purification with biotechnologies, e-mobility, etc… 

6) Urban Environment for PV Plants 

The superior collection of diffused light is also particularly relevant for application in densely inhabited urban environments where reflected light is conspicuous. 

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