But flowers are powering more than just our muscles, they’re helping to turn on our lights – not the metaphorical kind, the overhead lights we see with.
The solar power problem
The idea of using the sun to generate power is not new – the sun’s energy is regularly harnessed to heat water. Solar panels can increasingly be seen absorbing the sun rays on suburban roofs .
Sun power is 100 % renewable and eminently sustainable, provided the sun beams down with sufficient strength, but sun power has a major constraint.
It takes lots and lots and lots of space.
Solar parks are immense
In solar parks mirrors track the sun throughout the day and bounce its rays onto a central tower. But it takes 600 plus mirrors, each about the size of half a tennis court, to convert enough energy to power up 6000 homes.
CSPs , concentrated solar parks, are ENORMOUS.
The mirrors are staggered like chairs in a movie theatre, to “save space”, BUT this comes at a price – SHADOWS. So many mirrors end up being redundant for large portions of the day, because they fail to catch the sun.
Lessons from mother nature
Engineers from MIT and Aachen University in Germany have turned to the true masters of sun power – flowers for a little inspiration.
The sunflower arranges it’s florets in a spiral (Fermat spiral) angling it at 137 degrees.
When engineers arrange the mirrors in the same way as the sunflower – energy production per unit area rockets, because the mirror arrangement is more compact and more efficient i.e. less shadows.
Officially 2012 is the Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Sustainable energy is about providing energy that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
But we all need to do our bit by being a little more energy efficient. So turn off that electrical light and light up your world with a little sunlight today.Heliostat field optimization: A new computationally efficient model and biomimetic layout. Solar Energy (2012)86(2):792-803. Corey J. Noone, Manuel Torrilhon, Alexander Mitsos.
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