A 13-year old boy may hold the key to propagating the use of efficient solar power collection systems to millions of households on the planet. Typical solar panels are bulky, cumbersome and generally only efficient at collecting sunlight when solar position and meteorological conditions are ideal. These and other limiting factors of typical solar panels make them an impractical choice for many potential users.
Aidan Dwyer, a 13-year old boy from New York, discovered the key to optimizing the efficiency of solar power collection panels by observing patterns in the arrangement of branches and leaves in nature. Curious about the spiral pattern he observed in the implantation of branches in deciduous trees, Aidan wondered “whether there is a secret formula in tree design and whether the purpose of the spiral pattern is to collect sunlight better.” In his quest to understand nature’s design, Aidan assembled the pieces of the solar energy efficiency puzzle. He explored the mathematical spiral pattern in the branch implantation of different species of trees and discovered that this pattern could be expressed in fractions involving the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence! Aidan’s investigation led him to “copy the pattern of branches and leaves with solar panels” and compare different patterns. Aidan explains: “I designed and built my own test model, copying the Fibonacci pattern of an oak tree. I studied my results with the compass tool and figured out the branch angles.” Aidan concluded that “the Fibonacci pattern in trees makes an evolutionary difference. This is probably why the Fibonacci pattern is found in deciduous trees living in higher latitudes. The Fibonacci pattern gives plants like the oak tree a competitive edge while collecting sunlight when the Sun moves through the sky.”
Aidan experimented with different designs and built prototypes of nature-inspired “solar panel trees”. “The tree design takes up less room than flat-panel arrays and works in spots that don’t have a full southern view. It collects more sunlight in winter. Shade and bad weather like snow don’t hurt it because the panels are not flat. It even looks nicer because it looks like a tree. A design like this may work better in urban areas where space and direct sunlight can be hard to find.”
I predict that Aidan’s invention will figure prominently in the future landscape of solar energy collection around the world. Read Aidan’s own research report here. See also Treehugger’s excellent article and video interview of Aidan here and another excellent article here, by Wakeup World.