# Gallery: 13-Year-Old Makes Solar Power Breakthrough by Harnessing the F...

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To see why they branch this way he built a small solar array using the Fibonacci formula, stepping cells at specific intervals and heights. He then compared the energy output with identical cells set in a row.

To see why they branch this way he built a small solar array using the Fibonacci formula, stepping cells at specific intervals and heights. He then compared the energy output with identical cells set in a row.

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While most 13-year-olds spend their free time playing video games or cruising Facebook, one 7th grader was trekking through the woods uncovering a mystery of science. After studying how trees branch in a very specific way, Aidan Dwyer created a solar cell tree that produces 20-50% more power than a uniform array of photovoltaic panels. His impressive results show that using a specific formula for distributing solar cells can drastically improve energy generation. The study earned Aidan a provisional U.S patent – it’s a rare find in the field of technology and a fantastic example of how biomimicry can drastically improve design.

Aidan Dwyer took a hike through the trees last winter and took notice of patterns in the mangle of branches. His studies into how they branch in very specific ways lead him to a central guiding formula, the Fibonacci sequence. Take a number, add it to the number before it in a sequence like 1+1=2 then 2+1=3 then 3+2=5, 8, 13, 21 and so on a very specific pattern emerges. Turns out the pattern and its corresponding ratios are reflected in nature all the time, and Aidan’s keen observation of how trees branch according to the formula lead him to test the theory. First he measured tree branches by how often they branch and at what degree from each other.

To see why they branch this way he built a small solar array using the Fibonacci formula, stepping cells at specific intervals and heights. He then compared the energy output with identical cells set in a row. Aidan reports the results: “The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model. The tree design made 20% more electricity and collected 2 1/2 more hours of sunlight during the day. But the most interesting results were in December, when the Sun was at its lowest point in the sky. The tree design made 50% more electricity, and the collection time of sunlight was up to 50% longer!”

His results did turn out to be incorrect though. Voltage (what he measured) is not an accurate measure of energy from a solar cell– he measured higher voltage simply because he swept a larger portion of sky. Solar cells in series are as only as good as the weakest one, so the tree design is only as good as the worst positioned cell for amperage, which multiplied by voltage creates usable energy.

This story is very inspiring and I think that Aiden’s passion to unravel a mystery shows how exciting the path of scientific discovery is. Impressively he is demonstrating the power of biomimicry — a concept that many see as the pinnacle of good design, but one that thus far has been exceptionally difficult to achieve. Way to go!

+ The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees

Via Treehugger

1. March 2, 2015 at 1:12 am

I have a 968 Sq foot 2 bedroom house in Dublin Ohio. I need to heat it an with alternative source, any ideas? you and any young inventors are welcome to use the house for free experiments as along as it gets heated, oh it sits on 1 Acer Lot very nice area, it has City electric, well water, and 2 very large garages. My Dream of a fully autonyms house﻿

2. January 7, 2015 at 11:00 pm

Below comment was directed at Karen Roberts.

3. January 7, 2015 at 10:57 pm

WOW! After 4 years, you are still defending young people who try to take credit for ideas actually proposed years, decades, or even centuries earlier (often sole credit)?! What happened to “scholarship” and “research” and “references”? Not important anymore? It’s OK if journalists can just re-write history (especially of science and invention), any time they want to (if it makes for a better headline)? Can’t wait for the next teenager who claims to have found a “cure” for cancer! How many of them have there been now (10, 20, 30, 100)?

By the way, you are definitely NOT doing young people a favor when you give them a taste of fame at an early age, because then they will have an impossibly high bar to clear later. Science students MUST learn early the importance of citations and scholarship, other wise they may become complete frauds by the time they get to college. It’s one thing for the school newspaper to recognize the achievements of one of their own. It’s quite another for the national press to over hype things for their own benefit (not the benefit of the students).

As I stated below, the following MUCH MORE serious scandal and its cover up have yet to be investigated by the news media that created it!

You might also like to get a different viewpoint when it comes to “contests” for young scientists, below:

http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/intel-high-school-science-contest-is-overrated-norman-matloff-1.7369546

The truth is that there is never a first, second and last in science. By the way, I first learned about this property that all leaves of trees figured out (a billion years ago), in the following FANTASTIC kids book about mathematics (when I was 5). It’s the book that made me want to become a scientist and inventor. But I don’t remember ever trying to claim credit for what trees “invented” all those years ago. I still highly recommend this book as one of the best kids science books ever written! If I remember correctly, it also has a quote by Newton, that every young science student should learn before accepting awards for their own work (since it teaches them something about humility and honesty).

You must be related to this kid. No one else would comment here after more than 4 years. Are you always behind by 4 years?

P.S. Another company already did this a couple of years earlier!

4. January 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Every time there is a better way to do things, I don’t care if it is pseudo science, I love it. So stop bashing this boy will you , nerds.

5. September 14, 2014 at 11:27 am

The article is not wrong. Anyone involved with solar will have heard of this cool technology called micro inverters. That is where there is an inverter per panel as opposed to one larger central inverter. This type of implementation does not limit by the lowest producing panel. I’m sure others have posted this info. If not, then there some new info. The research and approach is completely valid when using the right design.

6. June 23, 2014 at 3:10 pm

@Nigel

Journalists are great at making mistakes, but HATE to correct them! This one was even a more egregious (deliberate) “mistake” that resulted in a large scholarship being handed out along with LOTS of media coverage (including the NYT):

http://articles.latimes.com/2005/jan/05/local/me-class5

7. May 22, 2014 at 2:48 am

Why is this story still up when it is obviously wrong? At the very least the story should be corrected and the headline changed.

8. March 26, 2014 at 8:27 am

Let’s not discourage before encouragement takes root. We have enough critics in the world. Find a way to send this young man your scientific thoughts to help him…team building skills!

9. November 3, 2013 at 12:14 am

In the following video at around 4:20, heh, you see Fibonacci reach for Phi.

If this is true shouldn’t we be just going straight for the “Gold” as they say, pun intended.

10. April 12, 2013 at 10:38 am

Hey, I just browsing on Wikipedia earlier and get more details about Finonacci Number and after understand it the concept, I think is not easy to relate those two things.

This kid super genius..

S. Shaffizan
Make Solar Panel Blog Webmaster

11. February 23, 2012 at 3:23 pm

guys guys GUYS, come on! Thomas Edison defined genius is defined as 1% percent inspiration and 99% perspiration To all the critics out there questioning the ROI, reasons and theories that this 13 year old produced / used. . . please. What were all you rocket scientists critics doing when you were his age?

12. February 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm

The amount of electricity it produces can be desputed, but I think the idea is good in another sense, trees have withstand storms during many generations, perhaps it survive storms better than traditional solarpanel arrangements?

13. February 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm

I am excited about solar energy……. I am also excited by Aidan’s experiment with solar power. Keep going Aidan, I believe you are on to something! I want a solar tree in my yard as soon as possible!

14. January 31, 2012 at 1:01 pm

it is very good to see that a boy of 13 years old has changed the views.he showed that in every mater we can turn it in to a wonder

15. January 24, 2012 at 4:46 pm

It took Edison 1000 tries to get the light bulb right; If the kid does this experiment 999 more times, gaining a bit of knowledge each time, perhaps he WILL achieve a breakthrough! Cut the young man a bit of slack, after all not all of us are Dr. Sheldon Cooper!

16. January 24, 2012 at 3:58 am

I think he had a look at the Solarbotanic website…!!!

17. January 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm

For Pete’s sake, let him be wrong if he is, I’m no expert but being wrong apparently can teach a student more than just being right all the time – besides, the kid’s just 13, cut him some slack, will ya’!

18. January 7, 2012 at 4:25 am

Will have to admit to having a bit of an agenda in this comment: a couple of my soapbox issues are 1.) the rampant Media practice of sensationalizing things and doing reporting in a very irresponsible way 2.) the widespread ignorance in the general public as well as writers, about scientific method, and widespread vulnerability to being wowed by what is, essentially, pseudoscience.

NOW! I’m not faulting Aidan for his method or calling it pseudoscience. This was his first outing. He will learn to be more rigorous (I hope). If, on the other hand, with the encouragement of Media and general public, he grows up and goes on doing experiments and reporting in this manner…then he WILL be doing pseudoscience.

Who am I faulting? Those who jump conclusions–without conducting the needed further inquiry and verification–believing this a notable discovery, and don’t recognize this as one of a young person’s first forays into doing experimentation–and learning how to do it.

So, with that in mind….

First, I do suggest that anyone take a good look at Aidan’s report, at:
http://www.amnh.org/nationalcenter/youngnaturalistawards/2011/aidan.html

Some points:

After many years of doing research myself, it seems to me that part of becoming a mature scientist has to do with learning to use good judgment about “what experiment to do next.” And how to do it. And then there’s also the little matter of knowing how to be rigorous in looking at your own results. Aidan is starting down this learning path–and more power to him. 47 years from now, if he’s like me, he’ll be still learning how to better “do science.” We never get there. But we do need to learn not to jump to conclusions, and to verify our method and our data and results. Another thing we have to do, is not write a “report” that builds up and advertises our own insightfulness, as Aidan’s report appears to do–raising red flags about credibility.

Looking at the graphs of the data in Aidan’s article, it looks to me like there’s something funny going on in them. Why are the widths of daylight narrower for the fixed array? I don’t pretend to know, and I certainly don’t imply any kind of massaging of the data, but, if it were my experiment, the first thing I would do would be to take a good look at my apparatus and instrumentation to figure out what’s going on with it and verify that it’s giving valid readings. Actually, in that respect, it reminds me of one of MY first experiments! Anyway…In a rigorous report, such obvious quirks in the data would be explained and accounted for by the experimenter. And any reasonable media outlet would insist on it before publishing. Any good editor would also want to know: by what mechanism does the researcher think System A produces more power than System B?

I’m also a bit concerned that Aidan is being encouraged by many to believe that the youthful enthusiastic magical thinking that we all have at that age, is good science. There are a whole BUNCH of parameters that Nature has used in designing a tree (probably more than mankind even knows about), other than light collection. So, to jump to the thought that Fibonacci numbers explain why trees are built the way they are and further conclude that solar panels ought to be arranged that way….Well, it’s an interesting thought, and worth thinking about. But without providing some mechanism by which it would be better, it’s a real long shot as a hypothesis. Seems kind of magical and woo-woo. But….

But it’s okay for an experimenter to “follow a hunch.” As Aidan grows up and learns more and does more experiments, his hunches will get better and better–if he’s encouraged to think rigorously–unlike most of the people in the Media and in this blog. Or, alternatively, if he continues to develop his ability to impress people with his ideas and his writing (with propositions that are popular and capture our fancy, whether valid or not), and if he continues to believe that he’s right and is determined to prove it (despite the evidence) then he might someday run for President.

19. January 6, 2012 at 5:20 am

Wow. That kid is really onto something. If you consider that leaves are opaque and let light through that isn’t photosynthesized, and that they can photosynthesize light from the bottom of the leaf, you kind of have to imagine that in a canopy there is a large amount of light going around. The leaves are designed not just to gain maximum light for itself but to transfer unused light to the rest of the leaves by reflection and diffusion. This is an example of a sustainable society and a sustainable design. Add to the design some passive eutectic solar tracking on the part of each leaf, and organize the array to collect without the lowest common denominator bringing the whole thing’s efficiency down, and you have a huge winner. The fact that current solar designs have this limitation is only because they were designed for what they are. Design around the issue back toward the drawing board.

20. December 26, 2011 at 1:39 am

His experiment may be flawed the first time out the gate. However, you have to give this kid credit for even recognizing a Fibonacci pattern in nature, let alone trying to use its sequencing in a scientifically relevant, interesting and thoughful way. Kudos, kid. Keep learning and sharing with the world!

21. December 18, 2011 at 7:03 am

I am sure most of us who have an IQ higher than politician , in other words anyone with a positive IQ., Could have made an error in coming up with a supposition. The very fact that someone so young should have such an interest is heartening, And i am sure he will learn to include and double check all the variables in any equation.
Before doing any press releases.

22. December 14, 2011 at 3:19 am

Ahhh, the armchair critics claiming the prize for noting that an apple is not an orange. The experiment was to see what the trees’ “use” of the Fibonacci series yeilded compared with a fixed array. The design was not completely evident from the photos nor is it stated exactly how branch angles were derived , etc. Yet, what is obvious is that there is some room here for more experiment and more exercise of insight by those claiming both superior insight and superior intelligence. Poor article writing should lead to a criticism of the article writer, not the subject.

Dr. Andrew Johnson, once called the most intelligent man in the world, from his chair pointed out the flaws of bicycles, saying that the user not only had to use the force to propel his body forward, but the bicycle as well, and thus was inferior to walking as far as energy consumption was concerned.

23. December 13, 2011 at 1:15 am

ok , fine and dandy, but how will the project react when lighting strikes a tree, will the modification attrac lighting bolts more with this usage, since lighting seems to seek a grounded tree, or what type trees attract lighting more

24. December 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Some of you say it won’t work. Others are quick to compliment. I’d say I’m one of the latter. I think he should be encouraged to continue discovering things that will or may make life better. Absolutely nothing wrong with showing initiative. Who funded the whole project or awared him a temporary patent has nothing to do with it. This is a 13-year-old who hasn’t yet absorbed the money-making, corrupted and cynical attitude of many adults. I certainly hope his mind doesn’t get ‘tainted’ too early with our jaded view of the future. He might not be working to improve our lives, but he might certainly have something to say about the way of life of his own generation and all those that will follow. Instead of throwing obstacles (even mental ones) in his path, the least we can do is stand back and low him prove himself. Goodness knows even we need all the help we can get. Before criticising him, whoever you are, what have YOU done to make our energy consumption more efficient?

25. December 8, 2011 at 1:58 am

What is solar power?

26. November 30, 2011 at 11:12 pm

naysayers may want to do research first before condescending.
A Winner of American Museum of Natural History 2011 Young Naturalist Award
http://www.amnh.org/nationalcenter/youngnaturalistawards/2011/aidan.html

27. November 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Not a really bad idea but also first see “Golden Book of Mathematics – page 31 – Irving Adler, 1962″!

Did he reference this (or any other) texts for his work (there are many to chose from)? So, what happened to “scholarship” as part of the measure of academic success? Will everyone in the future be allowed to just re-invent science?

Anyway, this is nothing compared to the 2004 Siemens Science Competition!!! Now THAT was a really bad job by the media, especially ABC News that got completely suckered by it (so much so, that they have not reported on this particular competition again!).

28. November 28, 2011 at 8:41 pm

if you mimic life and get the solar panels to move with the sun’s direction you could probably at least should get more. i am not a scientist nor even out of middle school but maybe this idea will work.

29. November 20, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Gr8 job Lil one, would love to help u out and do the cabling work for you.

30. September 29, 2011 at 1:47 pm

I agree with Jonathanmarks in that there is wisdom within the masses and taking the feedback one step further is a wonderful idea! This budding scientist has a wealth of knowledge and mentors from the feedback here. Aidan the criticism can be harsh and you will be subjected to it for the rest of your career as a scientist and or academician, but stay strong, follow your inclinations and use the criticism as a tool. All the best!

31. September 29, 2011 at 11:24 am
32. September 20, 2011 at 4:53 am

nice thought

33. September 19, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Amazing what we can accomplish when we pay attention to Nature’s design, instead of trying to ‘overcome’ it.

34. September 13, 2011 at 3:48 pm

It is wonderful to see a 13 year old undertake such a task. Kudos to this young man for his discovery. Can you imagine what the future holds?

35. September 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

One thing that is missing in his data is POWER. He only measured, or more accurately reported, voltage and not current. His statement of electrical generation is not quite correct since we can’t qualify the voltage with a current component to determine power output of his model.

Another note is the location of the “tree” next to the house and it’s light colored siding. This would account for some of the difference between the flat plane collector and his tree design.

That being said, I am impressed with his overall research and dedication to the project I do believe that his idea has merit and the actual production values, although less than his report shows, may be greater than the flat plane.

For the full report:

http://www.amnh.org/nationalcenter/youngnaturalistawards/2011/aidan.html

36. September 11, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Hello, I adore your weblog. Is there something I can do to obtain updates like a subscription or something? I am sorry I’m not acquainted with RSS?

37. September 10, 2011 at 7:45 am

I think we need to remember that this is a 13 YEAR OLD that carried this experiment out. With that considered, it is very impressive.

To have that curiosity, determination and interest in this field is something to be commended, and to maintain it, nurture it is of the upmost importance. It could be something followed as he gets older, and I look forward to see his future work

38. September 8, 2011 at 6:17 am

Vivien Muller, a french designer has been working on a solar bonsaï very similar to the project of that young man.
It is actually working to recharge your mobile electronic devices.

The solar bonsaï Electre is now on presale on Ulule.com.
Go check it out: http://www.ulule.com/electree

39. September 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm

This would be one of the more interesting science projects by a 13-year old, but its not good science and it isn’t a breakthrough. Only saying this for the still-naive commenters: the kid was creative, but he wasn’t right. Measuring voltage is not how you measure the power output of a solar array, for one thing. But mainly, orienting the cells in patterned or random directions will never generate more power than aiming them right at the light source. Inhabitat.com should pull the story, since its been exposed long ago as hype and bad science that made it to meme level.

40. September 2, 2011 at 10:05 am

It is the “creative thinkers and observers that come up with the greatest innovations of our time. The young boy still curious about things around him has developed and idea. Now with that idea we can (for those not so cynical) build upon that. For me I look at his tree design and I think I could see this as power trees for individual neighborhoods. But moving trees like in nature. The trunk sections to rotate with the sun and or seasons. Maybe softly colored for more light attraction and “moving solar LEAVES” as solar collectors, a new generating power source for neighborhoods farms, villages. As to Gates comment. You obviously are not too observant. It has already been done. Its called a tree, and it already collects energy from the sun and turns it into oxygen another synthesis process. Think of how it can be done, not, it cant be done. Gods already given us allot in nature. We just haven’t figured it out yet.

41. September 1, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Perhaps all you negative types should read Aidan’s well-written full report. Then you’ll realize, “oops, I spoke too soon.” I’m a high school math teacher and am so impressed that this work was done by a 13-year old. Way to go Aidan!!!
P.S. Loved the opening paragraph (of the report)!

42. August 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm

To the detractors who state the obvious (that this design utilizing biomimicry) is less efficient than wall-to-wall solar panels with tracking capability, Mr. Dwyer might answer that the valid comparison is not to a rigid blanketing of the available area, but to a random, multi-level array of vegetation. Aidan’s layout beats the random layout because, apparently, the Fibonacci sequence allows better year-round access to sunlight. Now let’s find a use for this enlightenment. Thanks, Aidan.

43. August 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Look at the implications here. Each home can be self sufficient! And that should be the goal, though corporations will fight this idea tooth and nail! A house could be built anywhere… and those remote areas in other countries can have power! The implication is world changing!!! How about adding solar fabrics??

44. August 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

For a 13 year old, this is impressive–regardless of this only having limited practicality. What did you do with your free time when you were 13? I road bikes, played street hockey, gamed on a Sega Genesis, and a Sony Playstation.

I believe this kid has high potential for a great future.

45. August 22, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Hey Aidan, take the criticism with scientific endeavor, and go back to the drawing board. Peer review speaks volumes! Don’t give up when you get it wrong. Instead, use the knowledge gained through failure and feed it back into the experiment. Keep thinking, keep experimenting, you will find an answer.

46. August 22, 2011 at 9:13 pm

@caeman: it’s “who among the readers….” not “whom” (subject, not object). Sounding educated is cool, but get it right.

47. August 22, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Please take this nonsense down. It is so obviously incorrect. http://www.eco-scams.com/archives/746

48. August 22, 2011 at 11:25 am

@gates, thank you for the very good information. You’re absolutely right on the two most important counts, voltage is not a accurate measure of power. He measured higher voltage simply because he swept a larger portion of sky. You correctly pointed out that cells in series are as only as good as the weakest one, so the tree design simply relies on the worst positioned cell for amperage. Converting that DC into Ac would also be difficult in this arrangement.

This story is very inspiring and I think that Aiden’s passion to unravel a mystery shows how exciting the path of scientific discovery is.

49. August 21, 2011 at 10:15 pm

He is indeed a very bright kid. And he deserves all the credit for his creative hypothesis and all his effort. However, his experiment is fatally flawed, and his idea cannot work with flat plate collectors. I’m sorry. First off, he measured only voltage. Voltage is not power. In order to measure power you must measure voltage and current. Volts x Amps = Watts (power). Therefore, his data is totally worthless. Furthermore, why would arranging flat plate collectors at various sub-optimal angles produce more power, than arranging them all at optimal angle? That would mean that the total power produced by misaligned cells would exceed the total power of a properly aligned array of cells. Any intelligent person can understand why that isn’t possible. If you don’t understand, it’s because you don’t know anything about solar cells. If you read his write up at AMNH, you would know he wired the cells in series. That means all the current flows through every cell in the circuit. If one cell is not optimally aligned, the entire circuit is limited to the output of that low producing cell. That makes his design the worst possible situation for solar cell circuitry. The output would be drastically reduced. In addition, The tree idea is not new. Visit http://solartree.org/ the web site of the solar tree foundation. I think they would beg to differ. However, their trees use uniform array alignment. Because that’s the only logical way to design a solar array for optimal output. This very bright young man, would benefit from equally bright mentor-ship. Unfortunately, it seems he doesn’t have it.

50. August 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Aidan puts most of his peers and adults to shame, not because this design is revolutionary ( from the comments I will just say that is still up for debate) butfor me, the real thrill was his drive, initiative, out of the box thinking and observational skills which are traits of a very good scientist.

He is still learning, and let us not get too heated enough to dismiss that we “adults” would do well to keep open and learn new things daily. Having said that, if he needs further guidance, support and knowledge, I hope he gets that from people who are willing to help him grow without feeling threatened by someone so much younger.

Our problems will and can be solved in a variety of ways, means and people. This is another example of where our help may come from.

51. August 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Actually, Aiden was completely wrong and his experiment was seriously flawed. But out of everyone involved, he was the only one actually using his brain. So congrats to him. I have written a thorough and easy to understand explanation (you don’t have to feel like you need to be an expert) of why he was wrong in the following blog:http://blog.mrzach.com/2011/08/this-is-where-bad-science-starts/ Enjoy.

52. August 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm

If you read the paper, http://www.amnh.org/nationalcenter/youngnaturalistawards/2011/aidan.html, you can see that he measured voltage, not power. Unfortunately, this means the result is meaningless. A solar cell creates the same voltage (when no load is applied) whether it’s got a tiny amount of light, or a lot. The POWER output depends on the amount of light hitting it.

He would have to hook each panel up to a load (resistor) and measure the actual POWER output to know if he’d actually found a better solution.

53. August 21, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Aldan, I am a civil engineer looking at building solar farms and your idea can revolutionize the solar industry with more efficient layout of panels in a tree pattern and the trees in a forest pattern. Think about it, why wouldn’t trees and forest be the most efficient use space and light.

54. August 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Alden , Now thats thinking out of the box and going out on a limb !

Keep up the good work you are an inspiration!

55. August 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm

This is one smart kid. He didn’t ask for anybody’s approval or input. He figured it out for himself and thus avoided all the negative and detrimental “advice” from those too dense to comprehend or too biased to have an open mind. A quick check of most of these comments will prove the crabs in a barrel theory is true. The more educated the commenter the more biased the comment.
Still you gotta give this young man his props, he did do something spectacular that the adults missed entirely!
Remember Alexander the Great conquered the world before he was voting age!
And lastly, as a mother and scientist, I am extremely proud of Aidan, more power to you!

56. August 20, 2011 at 7:50 pm

@Eagleclaws – I’m sorry, but unless the article got it wrong in saying, “…Aidan Dwyer created a solar cell tree that produces 20-50% more power than a uniform array of photovoltaic panels.”, you are mistaken. A uniform array does not cover opposite roof surfaces. There are 10 cells on that uniform array.

57. August 20, 2011 at 9:50 am

Inhabitat is a great on-line magazine. I just hope they do follow-up, especially on articles like this. You can see there is wisdom of the crowds here underneath the article, many of whom have pointers as to what he could do next to improve the design or get a helping hand from someone in the industry. Hopefully someone will curate the feedback and take the conversation further. That would make inhabitat different from all the other blogs out there.

58. August 20, 2011 at 8:30 am

The fact that he is using more panels is irrelevant. Not all the panels are facing the same direction as the sun through out the day. If you look at his tree you will see that some will be facing away from the sun for portions of the day. This means they are not collecting direct sunlight. If you look at flat panel collectors you will see many which are not following the sun all day unless you put in the sun tracking system. Which uses energy, and raises the cost of the panels thus leading to it being less attractive to the average person. This young mans tree when installed collects energy though out the day with no energy expenditure and collects more energy. You could put two or three of them in your yard at a lower cost (depending on construction materials) and have more energy.

One other thing we should take into account is that the solar trees can be put away from the house which will allow real trees to be grown near the home to create shade which will lower the cooling costs in the summer.

59. August 20, 2011 at 8:11 am

I have 1 q,what is name of this tree or any trees like banyan?

60. August 20, 2011 at 7:18 am

Acutally those of you who counted the tiles and stated that this young man failed. The pie is in your face, you have failed to count the TEN tiles on the opposing side of the roof. Therefore giving a static tile count of 20 verses the 18 tiles on the tree.

61. August 20, 2011 at 3:15 am
62. August 20, 2011 at 1:35 am

I applaud Aiden for his observation and his trial. I think now people need to encourage him to continue in the sciences; and in time his thinking on this particular project may change dramatically. Keep trying kiddo. History shows that futures were all probably built on ‘mistakes and alteration!’

63. August 20, 2011 at 1:21 am

This is only amazing to someone who does not know anything. Another stupid patent on obvious, well know things.

64. August 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm

I question his way of comparing the efficiencies of the tree design and flat panels. I assume he used the same amount of solar cells in the two systems. From the picture only 10 solar cells can be seen on one roof slope, so there must be more solar cells on the other roof slope. However, PV panels are commonly installed on the same roof slope, usually facing the south(in America), which is the best way to generate the maximum power output for flat solar panels. Obviously, the efficiency of the flat panels is reduced because of the inappropriate installation. This flaw renders his experimental data unconvincing.

65. August 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Somebody around said guys! “He’s thirteen” and I say FUCK-YEAH! stop treating him like he was four!

66. August 19, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I think Nasa can use this to improve its space technology.

67. August 19, 2011 at 8:07 pm

“The tree design made 50% more electricity, and the collection time of sunlight was up to 50% longer!”

Um, no. No it does not. The key words deliberately left out are “long than what.” Tracking solar panels far exceed scattered placement and far exceed static placement in electric power production compared to square meters of material. This “discovery” produces far less electric power than panels that track the Sun and far less than panels that are pivotal to track Eastern rising Sun.

Not a “breakthrough.” It’s not done because it’s inefficient compared to other, dynamic methods.

68. August 19, 2011 at 7:00 pm

He’s 13.

69. August 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Why not rig up the limbs to sway or even spin in the wind to not only generate solar but wind energy at the same time?

70. August 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm

You get the most energy out of a given area (i.e. best energy density) by blanketing that area in PV, 100% coverage. Period. All other design considerations are cost-reduction methods to save money on materials, labor, upkeep, and land costs (to name a few other considerations besides technical performance). In the industry, we talk about something called LCOE, or levelized cost of energy (units are \$/kWh). I applaud this young man’s scientific spirit and I do not what to detract from it, but his design loses to traditional solar solutions (flat mount, fixed tilt, and tracking) in both energy density and LCOE. Moving forward, I would encourage him to do more research into PV performance prior to doing more testing; measuring the voltage of the arrays is not an indicator of overall performance. And in fact, the arrays *must* be connected to some sort of max power point tracker (MPPT) with both voltage and current being measured to get any meaningful metric of “performance”.

For more information, please reference http://www.pveducation.org/pvcdrom. It is a wonderful resource on the science behind solar power. I use it often in my work as a test engineer for a major solar company.

71. August 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm

What happened to the age old practice of duplicating the results by a third party before publishing. I realize he is just a child but we don’t have to put he work on the global refrigerator and declare victory over fossil fuels just yet. He’s young, there’s time, somebody try to duplicate the result.

From the pictures, there appear to be 22 cells on the tree and only 10 on the house. Assuming that there are not 10 on the shaded slope of the house the tree if “as efficient” as the array should be producing 105% more power not 50% more. and if there are shaded cells on the back slop of the array they actually consume power not produce it so that implies the tree is less efficient then the 45% I expect.

Come on people, he get a gold star for thinking creatively not a provisional patent for an actual discovery.

72. August 19, 2011 at 5:00 pm

The kid is 13 and you’re criticizing his design? Shame on you.

73. August 19, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Although I applaud the ingenuity of the kid, being able to see and connect nature’s way of design with technology that people are doing – mimicking trees that capture sun’s energy. This particular idea isn’t practical: because complexity of building a “tree” and glueing pieces of solar on it would create more material waste, than the efficiency gain in electricty produced. plus it will make the solar panel very unstable in wind, and not to mention practicality of trying to mount these things on roofs, and aesthetics.

However, I think that there’s bright future in multi-layered solar cells. If there’s a way to engineer a multilayered solar cells using nano-tech, that would be something!

74. August 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm

A “why didn’t I think of that” discovery. Which means, a real discovery. This young man translated the efficiencies of one sunlight consumer to another such consumer. Bravo to him.

75. August 19, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I’d also like to thanks Aidan dad for loaning him the tools, arch welding the metal tree and using his credit card for buying the parts and driving him to McDonald’s for lunch breaks.

76. August 19, 2011 at 2:44 pm

BTW, it’s worth reading his actual writeup as opposed to just the summary in this site. It’s written incredibly well for someone his age, and honestly puts the writing in this article to shame. I’m also impressed by his own summary and the fact that he avoids making wild claims, sticking just to the facts of what he tested. He even suggests a genuinely useful way in which his design could be utilized (for solar collection in urban locations where vertical space is cheap, but horizontal space is at a premium).

77. August 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I’m pretty sure both sides of the flat array “house” had panels on them, for a total of 20 panels in the flat array.

78. August 19, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Well, I don’t want to sound like an ass or anything, and this is certainly impressive that a child would take the time to study and theorize about something like this, but as several others have pointed out this isn’t really any sort of revolutionary concept. What he has demonstrated is that the layout of leafs on trees is optimized to collect light from any point in the sky using a static configuration. That unfortunately isn’t really all that useful for construction of solar panels as they’re either motorized to follow the track of the sun for optimal collection efficiency, or else they’re oriented in a flat fixed plane which provides optimal construction efficiency (as well as space optimization when attached to existing structures). Although his design might be optimal in certain specific circumstances, in the general this isn’t some revolutionary new technique.

Once again, I’m not trying to be an ass, and I think it’s really great that this kid has done this (can’t wait to see what he gets up to when he finishes his education), but I’m seeing a lot of comments from people that are clearly misinterpreting the results and implications of this to be some kind of massively efficient general purpose solar collection system, which unfortunately this isn’t. It does offer a higher collection efficiency versus a flat panel (fixed) at the cost of an increased construction cost and a less efficient use of space, but a motorized panel is still going to massively outperform something like this.

79. August 19, 2011 at 12:17 pm

But doesn’t a sun-tracking array use energy to power the motor? So you wind up with some loss? Aidan’s is a passive system that suffers no loss to operating a motor. Certainly some cells would shade others from time to time, but that’s true of tree leaves as well. One thing that trees experience is movement in response to wind. I wonder if Aidan placed the cells on flexible limbs that swayed in the wind, would it help overcome the self-shading dilemma and improve efficiency?

80. August 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm

He’s 13. He’s being encouraged by his parents. He is interested in science. Some of y’all think you can cut the kid some slack? Yes, his scientific method needs some work. But whom among the readers here had this much inclination at age 13?

81. August 19, 2011 at 11:59 am

This is a great example of the innovative powers of the young. Aidan is a true inspiration. This article brightened my day.

82. August 19, 2011 at 10:59 am

I bet this is kinda of a hoax… no doubt their parents are proud of a kido like this, I would too be of anyone that escapes from the MTV mass-media brainwashing shit, but how does an phi-array pattern of self-occluding [look at the picture of the model next to the wall of the house, now count the panels on the shadow and compare to the model], randomly-oriented [i see no precision-alignment fixture for the panels nor to precision-orient the whole model, not to mention that according to the charts he’s doing test pretty close to winter solstice, that meaning the declination of the sunlight is at its lowest] regular solar cells ends beating up an single-cell same-area and type well-oriented suntracker when most people know that tangency of the rays is the most determinant factor to generate current… one thing is support but lying doesn’t does good to anyone.
P.D.: Besides the branches look pretty much like orthogonal to me… that’s what happens when you put bureaucrats on the patent office [or anywhere else!].

83. August 19, 2011 at 10:33 am

this is a beautiful breakthrough. nature has it right, if we can just follow her thought process. good luck to Aidan for further work

84. August 19, 2011 at 10:31 am

Also – you don’t earn a provisional patent. That is just a filing that hasn’t been reviewed by the patent office.

85. August 19, 2011 at 9:43 am

I’d be interested to see how this compares to a sun tracking array of solar panels as opposed to his single set that face one direction.

86. August 19, 2011 at 9:42 am

“The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place in the endeavor of science.” – Carl Sagan

His design may have flaws but I think the proof is in the pudding, it does generate more electricity. Scientists overlook things all the time. I would not be surprised at all if it were completely overlooked by current practice.

87. August 19, 2011 at 9:41 am

> Nature wins again.

Not really. Actual solar panel arrays are motorized so that they follow the sun, yielding even better efficiency. His design was compared to static, flat arrays, which are not actually used except in home roofs.

88. August 19, 2011 at 9:22 am

if we listen to nature and follow it we will find more efficient methods of solar power. It could perfected and marketed to everybody and that would keep the price lower and it also would not alter houses which some people don’t like solar and wind power are two answers for us. I saw a small solar covered car. That could work in sunny areas with back nup batteries to store. The big car dealership just keep adding a few more miles per gallon and think its progress. We must follow are energy needs with out disturbing the environment. Saw no to coal mountain drilling!

89. August 19, 2011 at 8:31 am

Looking at the images, it seems that he’s used 18 cells on the tree and 10 on the flat array. So increased the number of cells by 80% to get an increased yield of 20-50%. I somehow don’t see much investment for this.

90. August 19, 2011 at 7:57 am

Nature wins again.

91. August 19, 2011 at 7:55 am

I’m glad such a young person is interested in science but from the pictures it looks like his experimental design is flawed, as varying amounts of shade are present over the solar panels of both designs and furthermore the ‘natural’ design has far more solar panels on it. The amount of time, effort and money poured into solar technology I sincerely hope current practice hasn’t overlooked such an obvious idea.

92. August 19, 2011 at 12:02 am

this is so amazing! i can’t wait to see these massive solar trees in every neighborhood and in an array of colors ; ) i wonder what would happen if the large scale tree was completely covered in solar cell tiles? cool i bet but maybe not anymore efficient, hmmm.

you rock Aidan!