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More Efficient Solar Panels: Make Them Like Lego, Play Music For Them!


Solar Panels by Flickr user Chandra Marsono

Solar Panels by Flickr user Chandra Marsono

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Apparently, solar panels are a lot like plants.

Just as some people believe plants respond well to music, solar panels seem to perform better when "listening," according to a study by London's Imperial College.

The study found that sounds can increase solar panels' output, as long as the constituent cells have the right stuff.

The study's authors used solar cells laced with zinc-oxide nanorods, which are subject to the piezoelectric effect. That means it's possible to produce a voltage in the material by applying pressure or strain.

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The pressure from sound waves was enough to produce this effect, although the experimental solar cells do have a musical preference.

Researchers found that the high-pitched sounds of pop and rock were more effective than the low-pitched sounds of classical music.

They also found that sound levels as low as 75 decibels--roughly equivalent to the noise of a desktop printer--could significantly improve the power output of solar cells.

Brighton Earthship Solar Panels by Flickr user Dominic's Pics

Brighton Earthship Solar Panels by Flickr user Dominic's Pics

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With relatively little sound required to produce the effect, ambient noise could be used to boost the performance of solar-powered devices.

Perhaps the noise of moving vehicles could improve the efficiency of solar-powered electric-car charging stations.

Another way to boost efficiency turns out to take a lesson from the famous Lego childrens' bricks.

A separate Imperial College study found that "Lego brick"-style studs could also improve the efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels--which are occasionally now used on cars as well as rooftops.

The aluminum studs change the course of incoming light waves, directing more energy through a solar panel's absorbing layer.

Each stud is just 100 nanometers across, but on a microscopic level rows of them give the normally smooth surface of a solar panel the appearance of something from a child's toy box.

The result is an estimated 22-percent improvement in performance.

Turning solar panels into Lego bricks and playing them music may sound strange, but if these concepts prove to boost the efficiency and lower the cost of solar-powered charging for homes, commercial buildings, and electric cars, they may become commonplace.

We look forward to the days when eager researchers swap playlists for maximum solar efficiency. Lady Gaga, anyone?

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