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2011-08-20

And that's how the "Solar Stik" was made obsolete


A few years back, a company producing a solar panel mounting system called "Solar Stik" came in for some good-natured ribbing about its claims of maximizing solar panel output, which is often sub-optimal on boats due to angles and shadows from masts, etc.

Many solar-panel-equipped sailors, of course, have made for themselves various methods to optimally angle their expensive panels. It's not rocket science, after all: The "smartest" mount would track the sun all day, as the "equatorial mounts" on the better sort of telescopes move to keep a given celestial object in sight for long photographic exposures. Even better would be a way to tilt the panels relative to the sun's height, which varies with the seasons, and would make the tracking at the constant right angles at which most (but not all) solar panels produce the most amps.

Some people, of course, just bolt panels for "morning" and "afternoon" on their cabin sides, or on the lifelines when conditions permit, and accept that 1/2 of total output is better than a kick in the diesel tank.

This kid
decided to approach the problem using 800-year-old mathematics and by observing the growth of trees. Perhaps the key to fostering genius in the young is keep from them what is considered impossible. The Fibonacci sequence is, like Fermat's Last Theorem and Pythagoras's Famous One, among the oldest notions in Western math. And yet this young fellow figured out how a tree was better than a solar array when you don't have 300 acres of desert to lay it out in.

So, he may be onto something, but whether it will find application in the way sailors use solar energy remains to be seen. "Sun Tree on the stern? Sure!" One wonders if very light, flexible panels could be hoisted partway up the mast without coming apart in the wind, or maybe another solution would be to make flexible panels part of the mast itself.