web analytics

Seeds of hope

Written By: - Date published: 9:35 am, August 21st, 2011 - 19 comments
Categories: energy, science, sustainability - Tags:

I’m the worrying kind, and not too optimistic about our collective future in the medium to long term. So it’s nice every now and then to find a hopeful little snippet like this one, as featured on Slashdot:

An anonymous reader tips news of 7th grader Aidan Dwyer, who used phyllotaxis — the way leaves are arranged on plant stems in nature — as inspiration to arrange an array of solar panels in a way that generates 20-50% more energy than a uniform, flat panel array. Aidan wrote,“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. The pattern was about 137 degrees and the Fibonacci sequence was 2/5. Then I built a model using this pattern from PVC tubing. In place of leaves, I used PV solar panels hooked up in series that produced up to 1/2 volt, so the peak output of the model was 5 volts. The entire design copied the pattern of an oak tree as closely as possible. … 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!”

There is so much to love about this story.  The creativity of one so young.  The neat maths that underlies the physical world.  The immensely practical result. And the timely reminder – follow nature and you won’t go wrong. Bravo Aidan Dwyer.

19 comments on “Seeds of hope”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Absolutely cool. This is exactly the kind of thinking that works.

  2. ianmac 2

    Smart kid. But ahhh! What were his scores on National Standards? That would be far more important than messing about with oak trees!
    Yeah. I know. American lad but vaguely, my point is that inventive creative genius trumps pedantic assessments every day.
    And solar energy must be the greatest hope for energy collection. Wind is limited.

    • Phaedrus 2.1

      Dead right. What were his test scores? What were his school’s test scores? How did the school rank on the league table? Hope his teacher got merit pay for this? The school principal too, of course? This putting learning into action stuff is nonsense. We all know that what’s written on paper is vital, so it can be proved that he met the standard. Of course, now he’s doing this, the next step to be ‘aspirational’ and ‘raise the bar’ so that his ‘achievement can raised further”.

    • SHG 2.2

      Yes, my first thought when reading the parent article was “there has to be an angle here through which National’s education policy can be attacked”. Congratulations to you sir on finding it and posting it so quickly.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    If you read the comment threads, there are many very serious concerns about the quality of the research done: the type of panel he’s using is a cheap one and therefore reaches maximum power output quickly, effectively capping the amount of power you can get from an individual cell (rough example: a cell partially in shade will generate 50% of the capacity of a fully lit one, when really it should be more like 20-30%), the photo shows the setups apparently outside in a yard somewhere with trees that will cast different amounts of shadows on the two setups, he’s not actually measuring the correct value, etc etc.

    So in terms of research output, this is slightly interesting, but I don’t think it’s a breakthrough that no one else has considered before. More likely it was considered, found to not be very useful in a proper test environment, and discarded.

    Good to see someone so young so interested in science, though.

    • Bill 3.1

      ffs lanthanide!

      The two arrays are as near as dammit in the same position and could never be in exactly the same position given their different construction (one being more vertiginous than the other).

      As for the partially shaded cell producing 50% of the power of an unshaded cell rather than 20-30%, well it’s the same for both constructions, so the comparison between the two holds up…unless you’re going to say that the conventional construction was deliberately located to attract more shade. (x number of cells positioned ‘so’ collect y amount of shade and produce z amount of electricity compared to x number of cells positioned ‘so’ collecting y (minus) amount of shade and so producing z (plus) amount of electricity)

      And didn’t he say that by mimmicking the architecture of the tree, he discovered that it minimised the effect of the shade it cast on itself or that was cast on it?

      And even if he has got some things wrong, so what? Is that a reason to condemn him outright by offering up faint praise? By the attitude you display in your comment I’d pity any poor bugger who might be brought up in your care.

      • Lanthanide 3.1.1

        “As for the partially shaded cell producing 50% of the power of an unshaded cell rather than 20-30%, well it’s the same for both constructions, so the comparison between the two holds up…unless you’re going to say that the conventional construction was deliberately located to attract more shade. (x number of cells positioned ‘so’ collect y amount of shade and produce z amount of electricity compared to x number of cells positioned ‘so’ collecting y (minus) amount of shade and so producing z (plus) amount of electricity)”

        You’ve missed my point, and the point of the research. The idea of the research is that instead of just putting the panels on a flat surface where they either get 100% or 0% sun (and a short window in between when the sun moves around), they will instead receive somewhere between 0% and 100% for a lot longer duration.

        Thus the total capacity of the cell matters a lot: if in 100% sunlight the cell generates a maximum of say 5V (because it is a cheap cell and therefore total capacity is capped), and under 25% sunlight it generates 2.5V, clearly the maths doesn’t add up. Therefore you’d get the same results from running 20 cells at 25% capacity as you would running 10 at 100% capacity, when normally you should expect 40 cells at 25% = 10 cells at 100%. If those 20 cells are receiving anything over 25% each, then you’d be generating more power than the 10 cells at 100% setup.

        I may not have explained myself perfectly clearly, but this *is* a problem with his setup, and this simply illustrates why it is difficult to do research that gives meaningful results: it’s easy to overlook aspects of the test which you haven’t considered.

        “And even if he has got some things wrong, so what? Is that a reason to condemn him outright by offering up faint praise?”

        Because many people, including those on Slashdot, look at the headline and the article and go “wow, we can make solar power so much more efficient! this will solve lots of problems!” when actually the research doesn’t justify such a conclusion. R0b himself is leaning towards such a reaction himself: “The immensely practical result”.

        If someone came out with a magical fuel additive that claimed 10% extra mileage for your car, you’d be right to be skeptical. It’s no different when a child does some remarkably insightful research – don’t take their claims at face value.

        “By the attitude you display in your comment I’d pity any poor bugger who might be brought up in your care.”

        Part of the reason I never intend to have children, I’d simply do a rubbish job. Also the best thing you can do to save the environment isn’t to use eco lightbulbs or buy organic or cycle to work. The best thing you can do to save the environment is not to have children.

        • Bill 3.1.1.1

          Okay. Fair points. ( I get where you’re coming from with the cells and why a straight comparison between the two arrays isn’t accurate in terms of determining comparitive efficiency)

          Not that I was taking things at face value. My hesitation (cough) stemmed from the weight given to the branch configuration. Branches grow as much to give trees stability in wind as for any other reason. So I can’t quite understand the focus. Yes, main branches have sub branches that support leaves and it ‘makes sense’ for them not to obstruct one another too much. But that could have much to do with wind factors than anything else and be a happy coincidence regards light penetration.

          And leaves aren’t fixed in position. They move with the light. Anyway, it stuck me that the configuration/shape of the leaves themselves (whether on trees or other plants) might be worth looking at in terms of solar panel design. If there is an underlying commonality that can be replicated or mimmicked…..

          Anyway, the guy deserves credit for looking outside the square.

        • r0b 3.1.1.2

          R0b himself is leaning towards such a reaction himself: “The immensely practical result”.

          I’d be very surprised if the results don’t hold up in practice.  Once you stop to think about it (as Aidan apparently did) it makes perfect sense that evolution would have converged on an optimal way of arranging solar energy collectors (aka leaves).

    • mik e 3.2

      National will try and show it is the party of innovation with the election by trotting out its old war horses like Ruth Richardson putting on a good media front mean while National has slashed and burnt the innovation sector by cutting money and playing politics with this sector only reinstating innovation funding at less than half the previous amount after a 2year hiatus making it look like they have been innovative when in fact they have been very destructive to the innovation sector.Then when the media get stuck into them they trot out some small scale good news stories like the old Bolger trick.An example is wool research that had been undertaken at Lincoln university the two world class scientists that were doing research on new uses for wool had their funding completely cut and a third world country South Africa new their value and have snapped them up . The break throughs they had made have been put aside because this National so cold farmers party wouldn’t put any money into marketing these significant breakthroughs . Now South Africa is getting all their Knowledge for next to nothing .After the millions we as tax payers have invested Typical bean brain bean counters.

  4. Hilary 4

    Knowing absolutely nothing about the boy (who would be about 12?) I wonder whether he has Aspergers. If so he has probably struggled with school routines and requirements (such as in the US the No Child Left Behind national testing) and may even be home schooled. Being so bright and different risks causing anxiety and depression so it is great that he seems to have a supportive family who nurture his strengths and abilities.

    On the other hand it could be the backstory for Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory.

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    The brilliant intelligence of mother nature strikes again. The lad is smart too.

  6. Afewknowthetruth 6

    Ah. The economy of hope and delusion, founded on ignorance.

    I too was a once a believer. Now I know that solar panels have a limited life and their efficiency declines over time. And battery systems have an even more limited life.

    Technology isn’t going to save us. It’s too late. Decades of business as ususal and population overshoot have dug a hole too deep.

    Undoubtedly the culture of denial will remain intact until the financial markets collapse – probably later this year the way things are looking, though some more fraudulent financial props could hold things together for as long as another 15 months.

    • r0b 6.1

      I understand where you’re coming from Afew, and you may even be right (though much too rushed in your time frames).  But even if the battle is already lost, we should not (in my opinion) stop fighting.  New research and new ideas are always worth pursuing.

  7. Oligarkey 7

    AFKTT

    So what’s the plan? Is there a way we can find out all the people who have denied peak oil and environmental issues for the last 10 years and use them as a resource? mmmm – National Party Soylent Green patties

    Seriously though i think there’s at least 5 years before the expletive really hits the fan i.e. 15-30% unemployment in the west, though it’s impossible to know really. Also, i don’t think we’ll have mass starvation in the west for a long time. We’re just going to have to go to a more vegetarian diet.

  8. erentz 8

    Sorry, there is no scientific breakthrough here, just bad science:

    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/08/blog-debunks-13-year-old-scientists-solar-power-breakthrough/41520/#.Tk_v5AAtGZw.reddit

    Unfortunately the original blog post was removed.

  9. Oligarkey 9

    …Also AFKTT

    It may just be that we will have to revert to some kind of cuba-model in a less energy-intense, financially frozen economy. That would just mean lots more expensive manufactured goods, and less of them, less traveling, more public transport, fewer chain stores, plus lots more manual labour. Certainly, the current paradigm would have to fall over once we get up in the region of 30% unemployment, but that’s not necessarily the end of the world. It’s the densely populated poorer countries that i’m really concerned for.

Links to post

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Auckland Airport rail analysis must be made public
    The Government should publicly release its detailed analysis of rail to Auckland Airport before it closes off options, so the public can have an informed debate, says Labour’s Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford. The Transport Agency today said it is ...
    2 hours ago
  • Minister approved OIO consent despite death and investigations
    Louise Upston must say if she knew Intueri was being prosecuted for the death of a student and under a funding investigation when she approved its overseas investment consent to buy another education provider, says Labour’s Land Information and Associate ...
    1 day ago
  • Brexit vote costs NZ effective EU voice
    Despite being extremely close the result of the referendum in Britain reflects the majority voice, Labour’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Shearer says. “While we respect the decision to leave the EU, it goes without saying the move will usher in ...
    3 days ago
  • Pasifika Education Centre doomed
    The Pasifika Education Centre appears doomed to close down this December, says Labour’s Pacific Island Affairs spokesperson Su’a William Sio  “In a written question I asked the Minister whether he would put a bid in for more money. His answer ...
    3 days ago
  • Onetai Station review a shameful whitewash
    A report released today on the Overseas Investment Office’s (OIO) good character test is a whitewash that does nothing to improve New Zealand’s overseas investment regime, says Labour’s Land Information spokesperson David Cunliffe. “The review of the good character test ...
    3 days ago
  • We need a national strategy to end homelessness now
    Long before I entered Parliament, housing and homelessness were issues dear to my heart. I know from personal experience just how hard it is to find an affordable home in Auckland. In my maiden speech, I talked about how when ...
    GreensBy Marama Davidson
    3 days ago
  • Capital feels a chill economic wind
      Wellington is on the cusp of recession with a sharp fall in economic confidence in the latest Westpac McDermott Miller confidence survey, says Labour’s Regional Development spokesperson David Clark.  “Economic confidence amongst Wellingtonians has dropped 12% in the past ...
    3 days ago
  • Dive school rort took six years to dredge up
    News that yet another private training establishment (PTE) has rorted the Government’s tertiary funding system since 2009 shows that Steven Joyce has no control of the sector, says Labour’s Associate Education (Tertiary) spokesperson David Cunliffe. “Like Agribusiness Training and Taratahi, ...
    4 days ago
  • National’s housing crisis hitting renters hard
    National’s ongoing housing crisis is causing massive rental increases, with Auckland renters being hit the hardest, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    4 days ago
  • A Day with the PSA
    This week, along with Labour MP Kris Faafoi, I accepted an invitation to spend a day working alongside the good folk at the Public Service Association in Wellington. As the Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson for the Greens, I was ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    4 days ago
  • A Day with the PSA
    This week, along with Labour MP Kris Faafoi, I accepted an invitation to spend a day working alongside the good folk at the Public Service Association in Wellington. As the Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson for the Greens, I was ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    4 days ago
  • Government holds Northland back
    New information shows Northland remains the most economically depressed region in New Zealand, says Labour’s Regional Development spokesperson David Clark. “The latest Westpac McDermott Miller regional survey found that more Northlanders believe their local economy will deteriorate this year than ...
    4 days ago
  • Rebstock report into MFAT leaks a disgrace
    An Ombudsman’s report on the Paul Rebstock investigation into MFAT leaks shows the two diplomats at the centre of the case were treated disgracefully, says Labour’s State Services spokesperson Kris Faafoi.  “The Ombudsman says one of the diplomats Derek Leask ...
    4 days ago
  • More families forced to turn to food banks for meals
    Increasing numbers of families are having to go to food banks just to put a meal on the table, according to a new report that should shame the Government into action, says Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni. ...
    4 days ago
  • We have a housing emergency in New Zealand
    Auckland, New Zealand, where house prices have risen 20 percent in the last year alone We have a housing emergency in New Zealand.  Like many people we are ashamed and angry that in a wealthy country like ours, we have ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    5 days ago
  • We have a housing emergency in New Zealand
    Auckland, New Zealand, where house prices have risen 20 percent in the last year alone We have a housing emergency in New Zealand.  Like many people we are ashamed and angry that in a wealthy country like ours, we have ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    5 days ago
  • Aussie reforms signal trouble ahead for school funding plan
    Plans by the Government to return to bulk funding are likely to see increased class sizes and schools most in need missing out on much-needed resources, Labour’s Acting Education spokesperson Grant Robertson says. “The signaled return to bulk funding is ...
    5 days ago
  • Toxic Sites – the down low on the go slow
    In  2011, I negotiated an agreement with the National Government to advance work on cleaning up contaminated sites across the country. This included establishing a National Register of the ten worst sites where the creators of the problem could not ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    5 days ago
  • Aucklanders face new motorway tax of up to $2500 a year
    The Government wants to tax Aucklanders thousands of dollars a year just to use the motorway network, says Labour’s Auckland Issues spokesperson Phil Twyford. “Officials estimate the average city commute is 11.8km. This means for the average Aucklander commuting five ...
    5 days ago
  • 15 corrupt bank managers identified in student fraud
    New information show 15 bank managers in India have been identified by Immigration New Zealand as presenting fraudulent documents on behalf of foreign students studying here, Labour’s Immigration spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway says. “Documents obtained by Labour under the Official Information ...
    5 days ago
  • National leaves Kiwi savers the most vulnerable in OECD
    News last week that Israel’s Finance Minister will insure savers’ bank deposits means New Zealand will be left as the only country in the OECD that has no deposit insurance to protect savers’ funds should a bank fail. Most Kiwis ...
    GreensBy James Shaw
    6 days ago
  • Comprehensive plan for future of work needed
    A Massey University study showing many New Zealanders are unaware of the increasing role of automation in their workplace, highlights the need for a comprehensive plan for the future of work, says Grant Robertson, Chair of Labour’s Future of Work ...
    6 days ago
  • Another National Government failure: 90 day work trials
    On Friday last week, the Treasury released a report by MOTU economic consultants into the effectiveness of the controversial 90-day work trial legislation. The report found that there was “no evidence that the policy affected the number of hires by ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    6 days ago
  • Iraq mission extension case not made
    The Prime Minister has not made the case for extending the Iraq deployment another 18 months nor the expansion of their mission, says Opposition Leader Andrew Little.  “Labour originally opposed the deployment because the Iraqi Army’s track record was poor, ...
    7 days ago
  • Denial is a long river
    William Rolleston from Federated Farmers made the absurd claim on RNZ on Saturday that “we actually have very clean rivers”. This statement doesn’t represent the many farmers who know water quality is in big trouble and are working to clean ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    1 week ago
  • Denial is a long river
    William Rolleston from Federated Farmers made the absurd claim on RNZ on Saturday that “we actually have very clean rivers”. This statement doesn’t represent the many farmers who know water quality is in big trouble and are working to clean ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    1 week ago
  • Melanoma deaths could be avoided by an early access scheme
      The tragic death of Dunedin’s Graeme Dore from advanced Melanoma underlines the cruelty of this Government in promising a treatment but delaying for months, says Labour’s Health Spokesperson Annette King.  “Graeme was diagnosed with Melanoma last year. He used ...
    1 week ago
  • Assessing the Defence White Paper
    The Government’s recently released Defence White Paper has raised questions again about New Zealand’s defence priorities, and in particular the level and nature of public funding on defensive capabilities. The Green Party has a longstanding belief that priority must be ...
    GreensBy Kennedy Graham
    1 week ago
  • Kiwis’ confidence drops again: Economy needs a boost
    Westpac’s consumer confidence survey has fallen for the seventh time in nine quarters, with middle income households ‘increasingly worried about where the economy is heading over the next few years’, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “This survey is a ...
    1 week ago
  • Relocation grant simply kicks can down the road
    The response by state house tenants and social agencies to the Government’s rushed plan to shift families out of Auckland tells us what we already knew – this is no answer to the chronic housing shortage, Opposition Leader Andrew Little ...
    1 week ago
  • Peace hīkoi to Parihaka
    On Friday a Green crew walked with the peace hīkoi from Ōkato to Parihaka. Some of us were from Parliament and some were party members from Taranaki and further afield. It was a cloudy but gentle day and at one ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty
    1 week ago
  • Children’s Commissioner right to worry about CYF transition
    The Government must listen to the Children’s Commissioner’s concerns that young people under CYF care could be ‘negatively impacted’ as the new agency’s reforms become reality, says Labour’s Children’s spokesperson Jacinda Ardern. “Dr Russell Wills has used the second annual ...
    1 week ago
  • Bill English exaggerates PPL costs to justify veto
    The Finance Minister has used trumped-up costings to justify a financial veto against parents having 26 weeks paid parental leave, says Labour MP Sue Moroney. “Bill English’s assertion on RNZ yesterday that the measure would cost an extra $280 million ...
    1 week ago
  • Government must refund overcharged motorists
    Labour is calling on the Government to refund motor registration fees to three-quarters of a million Kiwi motorists whose vehicles were wrongly classified under National’s shambolic ACC motor vehicle risk rating system, Labour’s ACC spokesperson Sue Moroney says.“Minister Kaye’s ridiculous ...
    1 week ago
  • 90-day work trials an unfair failure which must change
    A new Treasury report shows the Government’s 90-day trials haven’t helped businesses and are inherently unfair, Labour’s Workplace Relations spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway says. “The Motu report found that 90-day trial periods had no impact on overall employment and did not ...
    1 week ago
  • Massey East houses a start but Nick Smith should think bigger
    The Massey East 196-home development is a start but the Government must think bigger if it is to end the housing crisis, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “It is great the Government is finally realising it needs to build ...
    1 week ago
  • More changes needed to ensure fewer cases like Teina Pora’s
    Teina Pora spent 21 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, shafted by a Police investigation that prioritised an investigator’s hunch over the pursuit of credible evidence. Yesterday’s announcement that the government is to pay him $2.5m in ...
    GreensBy David Clendon
    1 week ago
  • New Zealand Labour sends condolences to UK
    The New Zealand Labour Party is sickened and saddened by the murder of British Labour MP Jo Cox, Labour Leader Andrew Little says. “Ms Cox was killed in cold blood while simply doing her job as a constituent MP. She ...
    1 week ago
  • Shameful refugee quota increase still leaves NZ at the bottom of the list
    Minister for Immigration Michael Woodhouse announced this week that the government will put off increasing the refugee quota by 1000 places until 2018.  It’s a shameful decision that undermines the Government’s claim that it takes its international humanitarian obligations seriously, ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche
    2 weeks ago
  • Paula Bennett as a victim hard to swallow
    The National Party spin machine has gone into overdrive to try and present Paula Bennett as the victim in the Te Puea Marae smear saga, says Labour Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. “Bill English in Parliament today tried valiantly to paint ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Voters to have the final veto on paid parental leave
    New Zealanders will have the final right of veto on a Government that has ignored democracy and is out of touch with the pressures and demands on families, says Labour MP Sue Moroney. “Today’s decision by National to veto 26 ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Collins should put Kiwis’ money where her mouth is
    Labour’s Police spokesman Stuart Nash is calling on anyone who has received a speeding ticket for going up to 5km/h over the 100km/hr open road speed limit to write to him and he will take it up on their behalf ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Where is the leadership on equal pay for work of equal value?
    The gender pay gap in the public service is worse than in the private sector. I’ve always found this particularly galling because I expect our Government to provide an example to the private sector on things like human rights, rather ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie
    2 weeks ago
  • Kiwis’ real disposable income goes nowhere for the year
    New Zealanders’ hard work for the last year resulted in no increase in real disposable income, showing Kiwis aren’t getting ahead under National, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Today’s GDP figures reveal that real gross national disposable income per ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Pora case a case to learn from
    Conformation that Teina Pora will receive $2.5million from the Crown for more than 20 years of wrongful imprisonment does not fix the flaws in our system that led to this miscarriage of justice, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says. “The ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Government needs to start again with RMA changes
    The National Government’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act have attracted more than 800 submissions, many of them critical of key aspects of the Resource Legislation Bill. There has been much criticism of the new regulation making powers given ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage
    2 weeks ago
  • Bennett’s briefing completely unacceptable
    It is completely unacceptable that Paula Bennett briefed her political staff on the police investigation into Hurimoana Dennis after her meeting with him, despite it having nothing to do with her social housing portfolio, says Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Speech to Green Building Council
    Building smarter, greener cities It will be clear to anyone who has been watching the public debate on the housing crisis that housing in New Zealand is sadly far from being economically sustainable when Auckland has the fourth most unaffordable ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Paula Bennett has more questions to answer
    It is unthinkable that Paula Bennett’s press secretary went rogue and tried to smear the reputation of someone involved in helping the homeless, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “Political staff would not take such serious unilateral action without the ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Speech on Notice of Motion on Orlando
    Mr Speaker, The Labour Party joins with the government in expressing our horror at this atrocity and our love and sympathy are with the victims and their families. Our thoughts are with the people of Orlando and of the United ...
    2 weeks ago

Public service advertisements by The Standard

Current CO2 level in the atmosphere