Lightweight Solar Panels That Mimic Wall-Crawling Ivy

Sun Light
These small solar-power units are made of plastic and a 0.02-inch-thin photovoltaic material.Dan Saelinger

Solar panels are a common sight on rooftops but rare on vertical walls, which, being more or less parallel to the noonday sun, get less solar energy. Hoping to take advantage of this unused space, design start-up SMIT looked at how ivy plants nonetheless thrive on the sides of buildings. The company's upcoming solar-energy system takes inspiration from the way a vine's many leaves individually maximize their sun exposure.

Solar Ivy consists of thousands of four-ounce photovoltaic "leaves" that can be screwed into place on a steel-mesh wall covering. Exactly where each leaf is affixed to the grid depends on a pre-installation analysis: SMIT's custom software calculates the angle that gathers the most light—in New York City, for instance, the leaves are tilted 49 degrees and rotated south—and a pattern that prevents the leaves from shading one another.

SMIT says 4,000 leaves will cover two three-story walls and generate 10 kilowatt-hours of power a day, a third of an average home's needs. It is taking preorders for next year and is in talks to launch a pilot this month on the even more angularly complex geodesic surface of the Montreal Biosphere.

Smit Solar Ivy

Leaf Size: 8 by 10 inches
Leaf Power: 0.5 to 2 watts
Cost: Varies depending on size of project (est.$10-$15 per leaf)
More Info: s-m-i-t.com