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Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are commonly assembled in a two-dimensional (2D) form, while plants and other sunlight collecting structures in nature are three-dimensional (3D). Using 3D rather than 2D can allow one to increase the generated energy per base area, at the cost of higher solar cell material per unit of generated energy. One major barrier to widespread use of solar panels is installation cost (rather than active material costs), and so by studying different ways to configure them, they also set out to explore new paradigms for solar photovoltaic installation.
Professors Jeff Grossman and Marco Bernardi proposed to:
Write a computer code that would enable calculation of generated energy by an arbitrary 3D photovoltaic (3D-PV) structure, at any latitude and longitude and using panels of arbitrary reflectivity and efficiency, and using an accurate apparent sun trajectory. The code allows one to calculate the energy generated over a period of time from a fixed structure, or alternatively evolve the structure with an optimization algorithm to maximize the generated energy. They implemented both genetic algorithm and a Monte Carlo optimization schemes.
Study the 3D shapes with higher energy per footprint area unit, and study the power generation profile during the day; compare these figures with flat PV panels
Study these structures at different latitudes and during different season
Validate their results with outdoor experiments on real 3D-PV structures
Eventually, include weather models and wavelength-dependent effects, and parallelize the code.
Why a Cluster?
Prior to their cluster purchase, MIT was running these simulations on a laptop. While the code is not parallelized in its current implementation, genetic algorithm and Monte Carlo optimizations can be very demanding, with the longest performed calculations taking up to one month on a single processor, which is not feasible on a laptop.
So they looked for a more efficient way of running their simulations, which is where Advanced Clustering Technologies entered the picture. MIT’s first cluster purchase from them gave them the possibility to run simulations on many processors in parallel and to carry out very large-scale simulations. The code in its present form scales like N*logN, where N is the number of panels in the simulation. Currently, they are investigating entire residential areas where houses and buildings are coated with solar panels, thus forming huge 3D-PV structures with more than 10,000 panels. This clearly requires a cluster to run in a reliable way. And the one provided by Advanced Clustering delivered a decrease in run time by a factor of 100, which allowed for more simulations and a better understanding of what works and what does not.
Why Advanced Clustering Technologies?
The cluster provided by Advanced Clustering Technologies offered an excellent trade-off between cost and performance, together with competent technical assistance from the seller. This has boosted MIT’s capability to carry out their solar panel project to find a better way to deliver solar energy to the home.
The cluster offered a reliable and efficient platform to perform calculations and back up results. At the same time, jobs can run in background while previous calculations were analyzed. Given the large amount of data generated, the 3D-PV project would have been impossible without this strategy.
MIT’s simulations demonstrated that the performance of 3D-PV structures scales linearly with height, leading to volumetric energy conversion, and provides power fairly evenly throughout the day. Furthermore, they showed that optimal 3D structures are not simple box-like shapes, and that design attributes such as reflectivity could be optimized using three-dimensionality.
In summary, the cluster provided by Advanced Clustering Technologies facilitated the prediction of generated energy and optimal shapes, and is an indispensable tool for optimizing solar energy generation. MIT’s results show that 3D sunlight collection has the potential to serve as a paradigm shift in solar energy conversion toward the Terawatt scale.