With solar panels gaining so much ground in recent years, engineers are designing PV systems that are becoming more innovative and artistic. Solar trees are making solar energy more accessible to the public, as their friendly design makes solar energy interesting and attractive. The unique style combines art, civic engineering, and sustainability, and has the potential to change the way public spaces are built. Solar trees might even have an edge over traditional PV panels, as they take up less space and provide more energy per unit of area. They also give the public a place to sit down, relax, and socialize while charging their electronic devices.
What are Solar Trees?
Solar trees are a structure that hold multiple solar panels high up on branches which are then attached to a central trunk. The structure looks very similar to a tree, hence the name. Solar trees are used both for artistic purposes and as actual power sources. The materials with which the solar panels are constructed harvest the sun’s energy, converting it into usable electricity. The playful and innovative designs behind solar trees can make solar energy more functional in public spaces and can help bring awareness to solar energy by attracting attention to the unique design.
Why get a Solar Tree?
The solar industry is growing rapidly, with more and more VC firms investing in renewable projects. Traditional solar panels are starting to become a common sight. Solar trees give us a fun-looking and unique alternative to PV systems that can actually provide more energy per unit. They also take up less space and can provide a function beyond generating electricity, as they can serve as a meeting point or place to sit, while some are designed as street lights. Perhaps, in time, solar trees may become more popular even than solar street lights. Solar trees also have artistic value and can help bring awareness to solar energy with their unique design.
Art & Aesthetics
Solar trees are fun to look at and are often used as a form of functional public art, especially in parks and playgrounds where they can attract more attention. Being inspired by real trees, solar trees are what’s called biophilic design. This is where man-made objects take inspiration from nature and natural landscapes and incorporate nature into their design. Solar trees blend in with natural landscapes and can add a futuristic and colorful vibrancy to public spaces while generating solar power. When most people think of solar energy, they see large black and silver panels that hold no real aesthetic value. Solar trees give people an alternative to the traditional aesthetics of a PV system, making it a more favorable option to the public.
The interesting design of solar trees attracts attention, especially from children and curious onlookers. This helps bring awareness to solar energy and the forms in which it can take. The unique design can spark interest in those who never really cared for solar energy or civic engineering, and can bring more people to advocate for the installation of both traditional PV panels and solar trees. Artists and engineers will also be inspired to create new designs for PV systems, as the biophilic design of solar trees breaks the mold of what solar energy can look like.
Due to their design, solar trees take up less space than traditional panels and provide more energy. The trunk means that they have a small footprint but can hold multiple PV panels toward the sun, making them efficient from both an energy perspective and a spatial perspective. Since the branches hold the solar panels high up above the ground, the panels can get more direct sunlight while also providing shade for the people below. This makes solar trees great as meeting spots and places to relax. Many have benches around the base for this very purpose. They can also be used as charging stations for the public to charge their electronic devices. These are called Strawberry Trees and were designed by a Serbian company called Strawberry Energy. They can also be deployed en masse to create a “solar forest,” where dozens or even hundreds of trees cover an area to provide power, shade, and artistic value.
Solar Trees vs PV Systems
Solar trees have quite a few upsides over traditional PV systems. Solar arrays take up a lot of space, and quite a few people view PV panels and solar parks as unsightly eyesores. Solar trees make PV systems more aesthetically pleasing when compared to traditional solar, as solar trees are usually colorful and curvy, versus the angular and metallic nature of traditional solar panels. Solar panels also take up quite a bit of space and provide no real function other than power generation. The smaller footprint of a solar tree means they take up less space than PV systems, and their multiple branches mean they provide more power per area. The amount of power they generate is a function of the number and size of the panels on their branches. Replacing PV systems with solar trees can make solar energy more functional and pleasing to the eye.
While we need solar farms as an alternative to fossil fuels, they take up huge swaths of land that can be used for other purposes. Solar parks are also usually located in remote areas, far from major population centers. This raises the cost of operations as some of the power is lost during transmission. Solar trees have functional value and can possibly take up less space per watt, making them very useful for mass solar generation within major cities and towns. Creating large-scale solar forests in cities would generate large volumes of electricity while providing aesthetic value. This would eliminate the need to distribute the electricity through costly and unsightly transmission lines. The solar trees can be spread throughout the city, providing locations for people to sit and relax. They can also be concentrated in small areas as part of a functional art installation to create a fun and functional atmosphere in major public spaces such as town squares and public parks, while also generating large volumes of power for the surrounding area.
Solar trees are a playful and friendly alternative to the traditional PV system. Whereas many see solar panels as unsightly with their metallic and angular appearance, solar trees make solar energy more interesting and attractive to the public. The unique biophilic design mimics nature and blends into natural landscapes. In addition to generating electricity, solar trees also have artistic and functional value. The small footprint and top-heavy profile mean they can hold more PV panels in a small area, while providing shade to those below. Building urban “solar forests” as opposed to solar farms in remote areas can make generating large-scale solar energy cheaper and more functional than ever before. We need solar energy as we transition toward a carbon-free future, why not make it fun?
Frequently Asked Questions
A solar tree is a PV system that is designed like a tree. Multiple solar panels are held up high on branches that are connected to a central trunk or pillar.
The top-heavy design and small footprint mean that a solar tree can produce more energy in a small area. They can also provide shade and a place to sit, as well as a place to charge your electronic device. The biophilic design means that solar trees provide artistic and aesthetic value to public spaces while also being functional. The uniqueness of solar trees also attracts interest and can raise awareness about solar energy, and can spark those who usually wouldn’t be interested in solar energy to take notice of alternative forms of energy.
Solar trees can be a primary source of energy if build on a large scale. Traditional solar panels and solar parks take up lots of space, and are usually in remote areas, making transporting the electricity expensive. A large array of solar trees, called a solar forest, can be created across a large city. This will eliminate the cost of transmission through power lines while raising the aesthetic value of the city and providing functional public spaces for the people.
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