Right now, designing a solar power installation generally means figuring out how to orient flat or angled panels so that they’ll capture the most light. Or the panels are put onto expensive, swiveling mounts, which move the panels over the day to track the sun. But a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a different theory about how to best design solar power systems—by using solar panels to build three-dimensional structures.
One of the models the team constructed is an open-ended cube. It’s made of nine solar panels—four exterior walls, four interior walls, and the bottom inside. Another, an open parallelepiped, took 17 panels to make. The accordion-like towers, with their ridged faces, contain 32 panels.