We bet panels come immediately to mind when you hear the term "rooftop solar." An image search on that term returns thousands of pictures of gleaming black rectangles laid evenly across roofs of all angles and sizes.

But solar today is breaking out of the rectangle in a big way.

Enter the Dragon

The latest noteworthy example is the "dragonscale" solar roof (pictured above) installed last month at Google's Silicon Valley campus. The tech giant is committed to green energy, but regular panels wouldn't fit the slopes and curves of the canopy structure.

Google's spokesperson said that "we knew we’d have to think beyond traditional rectangular solar panels to create something that balanced form and function."

The unique "skin" design comprises 90,000 silver solar panels with the capacity to generate 7 megawatts of energy, Google said. Flexing to match every contour, the skin extends edge-to-edge on each gracefully concave surface, thus maximizing the area of energy capture.

When activated, the dragonscale solar energy system will supply about 40% of the electricity required in two building on the Silicon Valley campus.

SunStyle developed "the highly textured prismatic glass shingle with a unique coating technology," says Google. "The prismatic nature of the glass ‘trapped’ light that would normally escape from traditional flat solar panels and reduced reflective glare that can be a problem for drivers and pilots."

The way the panels overlap in a diamond pattern, plus the sparkle that the unique coating gives off, led to the name dragonscale.

Flower Power

Solar skin applied to a building under construction is an example of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). These energy systems are often custom manufactured for the building site, making them complicated and pricey. They must integrate with the construction and also look good. Solar energy systems mounted next to buildings, however, bring a lot more freedom.

Photo courtesy of Smartflower.

Our second example of the beautifully evolving shape of solar comes from Boston-based Smartflower. We have seen many impressive solar energy systems mounted on useful ground frameworks before, from pergolas to carports, but the Swiss-engineered Smartflower is a ground framework that doubles as outdoor art.

To greet the sun each morning, the Smartflower automatically unfurls like the tailfeathers of a peacock. The system positions the petals at a 90-degree angle to the sun, optimizing capture. Using a dual-axis tracking system and GPS, the panels follow the sun throughout the day. At night or in high winds, the petals contract.

Bonus: Soft bristles on the rear of each petal clean off the underlying petal every time the flower contracts. Pretty neat!

The all-in-one design can be placed anywhere outdoors. The invertor, monitor, and batteries are contained within, so installation takes only a few hours.

What Shape Will Be Next?

How cool is that?! Power-generating dragon skin and giant flowers . . . Are we in a fairytale? Green energy enthusiasts sure are an inspired bunch. Explore your custom solar options by requesting estimates from friendly local installers today.