Solar Panel Design, What Butterflies Have Influenced Solar Science


An expert research team at the University of Exeter has come up with a new technique for generating photovoltaic energy – in other words, ways in which light energy can be converted into usable power. The research team found that the Cabbage White Butterfly has its own way of making solar energy, giving experts new ideas in the development of solar panel design.

They demonstrated that by mimicking the Cabbage White Butterfly’s v-shaped position, the productivity of solar panels can be increased by almost 50 percent. These butterflies tend to use this posture so that they can heat up their flight muscles before they take off. By replicating their wing like structure, the specific power (or the power-to-mass ratio) of the solar energy structure is raised 17-fold, which makes it much more energy efficient.


Biomimicry is not a new phenomenon in engineering. However, this multidisciplinary research has shown that there are pathways to develop more efficient solar panels at a much lower cost than has ever been done before. The Cabbage White Butterflies take flight much before the other butterflies on cloudier days.

This limits how they use the sun’s energy to heat up their flight muscles. This ability comes from their v-shaped positioning, also referred to as reflectance basking. They adopt this technique to maximize the solar energy concentration onto their thorax. This makes it possible for them to fly.

Moreover, the specific substructures that are seen in the wings of the butterfly allow sunlight to be reflected in an extremely efficient manner, which guarantees that the flight muscles are warmed up to an optimum temperature in a very short period of time.

The scientists who conducted the research investigated the best way to replicate the wings so that they could develop a newer and more lightweight reflective material, which can be used for the production of solar energy.

butterfly spectrum

According to the findings of the team, the optimal angle at which the butterfly holds the wings to increase the heat reflected to the body is around 17 degrees. This increased the temperature by 7.3o Centigrade as opposed to when the wings were held flat.

They also demonstrated that when the mono-layer of the scale cells that are found in the butterfly wings are replicated in solar panel design, it improves the power-to-mass ratio of the solar concentrators, making them lighter and much more efficient. This has gone to show the cabbage butterfly is not just a garden variety pest that feasts on your cabbage crops, but is actually an expert at making the most of solar energy.


Solar energy is all set to become one of the cheapest sources of electricity around the world in the next decade. It is approaching grid parity with the power generated by fossil fuels and in many cases, falling even lower as the wafers become thinner and more efficient.

Solar photovoltaic cell prices have fallen by 80 percent since the year 2008. The installed global capacity of solar energy has also increased by six times in the last three years. The writing on the wall is pretty clear. Companies and individual homeowners are looking to convert to cleaner energy sources, especially considering the fact that fossil fuels account for over 40 percent of all man-made carbon-dioxide emissions.