Scientists create sunflower-inspired cities to harness more sunlight for solar energy

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In a groundbreaking study, scientists have designed a new city layout inspired by the pattern of sunflower seeds to maximize solar energy in places that don’t get a lot of sunlight.

Led by Dr. Ammar A. T. Alkhalidi from the University of Sharjah, the team’s work introduces a novel way to arrange buildings in a city so that each one gets an equal amount of sunlight, making it easier to collect and use solar energy.

This innovative city design is detailed in a study called “Sunflower-inspired urban city pattern to improve solar energy utilization in low solar radiation countries,” published in the Renewable Energy Focus journal.

The idea comes from how sunflower seeds are arranged in a flower, known for capturing sunlight efficiently. The team, including researchers from Iraq, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, found that this pattern could be the key to better solar energy collection in cities.

Traditional city layouts, like the grid and radial patterns, don’t always allow sunlight to reach every building equally. This can be a problem for generating solar power, especially in places with less sunlight and longer shadows.

The grid pattern has streets and buildings arranged in a square shape, while the radial pattern has roads and buildings laid out in circles. These designs can block sunlight from reaching all building surfaces.

Dr. Alkhalidi and his team propose a solution with their sunflower-inspired city design. By arranging buildings in a way that mimics a sunflower, they found that rooftops and facades (the outer faces of buildings) get more sunlight.

Specifically, their design performed 4% better for rooftops and 12% better for facades compared to the old patterns. This means more solar panels can be placed on buildings to collect solar energy.

To test their idea, the scientists used simulations on different cities, choosing Warsaw as an example of a city with low solar radiation and long shadows. The results showed that their sunflower pattern allows sunlight to reach every building more equally than the traditional designs.

The study’s goal was to create a city layout that could maximize the sunny areas on buildings’ surfaces for solar applications, like solar panels.

The team focused on simple changes to how buildings are oriented and distributed, without altering the buildings’ shapes. This way, they could be sure that any improvements in sunlight exposure were due to the layout itself, not differences in building design.

Dr. Alkhalidi and his colleagues hope that their sunflower-inspired cities can lead to more efficient use of solar energy, especially in parts of the world that struggle with lower sunlight levels.

This innovative approach not only aims to increase the amount of solar energy cities can generate but also to inspire new, more sustainable ways of urban planning. By looking to nature for answers, scientists are finding creative solutions to modern problems, making cities greener and more energy-efficient.