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The Solar Forest: Charging Station And Shady Spot For Electric Cars

by Christa Morris

The approaching age of electric vehicles presents us with a secondary, albeit significant, challenge: building accessible recharging stations with renewable energy. While we’re at it, can our parking lots be shady, please?


One solution may already have arrived. In Neville Mars’s dreamy design, appropriately dubbed the Solar Forest, large, leaf-shaped photovoltaic panels on branching “trees” will provide both shade and power-up plugs for electric cars relaxing on the parking lot underneath.

The viral spread of this design would suggest this is a novel idea. But between the years of 2005 and 2007, Envision Solar cultivated its own Solar Grove in Kyocera’s San Diego parking lot. With the same goal of shading cement parking lots while capturing solar energy, this forest came to life with large, flat and rectangular PV “trees.” The solid technology promised to repay costs of installation within five years, but the clunky array looked more like helicopter landing pads than trees. Although functional, the Solar Grove failed to draw as much attention. sfonetree.jpg

In contrast, the blog-storm in the past week has focused little on the science behind the Solar Forest, and instead has been fueled by the trees’ organically striking visual appeal. In order for companies to fork up the initial installation costs, it is crucial that solar-parking-lot solutions are not just convenient and sustainable, but attractive as well.

The final question is whether the structure truly translates into function. Like many others, I was initially concerned whether the shade of overlapping PV leaves would waste surface area. However, Mars assured Mike Chino of that the leafy canopy design was not a goal, but the best solution to maximizing shade for the cars and sunlight for the PV panels—much like the dogwood tree in my backyard, the Solar Forest’s leaves will tilt and rotate with the sun.

If the Solar Forest can be modular and economical as well as effective, it will be worldchanging. Think of how much under-utilized, sun-baked parking lot space exists alongside a single strip mall! In any event, the excitement this idea has generated brings attention to the vital role of biomimicry in sustainable design, as well as the key goal of transforming the unsustainable (and downright ugly) spaces of the world into useful, beautiful, and bright green landscapes.


Learn more about, biomimicry, solar projects and EVs in the worldchanging archives:
Biomimicry 101
Solar Carbon Payback
Project Get Ready Aims to Create Electric Vehicle Revolution

Creative Commons Photo Credit

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This is a great idea, finally a solution that looks attractive and covers all the functional points as well...I wonder if only there was consideration for better rainwater infiltration for the ground surface, or collection of rainwater with the solar "trees" as well and an overall better integration with natural elements so that it can be at least somewhat of a habitat for animal species?

Posted by: Vinko on 30 Jul 09

Looks nice (who hasn't looked at a baking parking lot and thought something better could be organised?)

I know it's a concept only, but wouldn't smaller leaves tilt to catch the sun more efficiently? Let's catch the wind power with piezo-electric strain feeds while we're at it!

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 30 Jul 09

It will be misery on a rainy day.

Posted by: yuta on 30 Jul 09

More and more I am getting strengthened in my conviction that the new "green" generation is completely devoid of any constructive, innovative ideas to improve the quality of life on the Earth. There are some little improvements of old ones, though, but nothing groundbreaking.

Which confims the Ayn Rand's point of view that there is no alternative to egoism, excess, fierce fight for survival. The next generation that comes after that will be exactly that, fierse and independent, and they'll hate you, the complacent destructors of human spirit.

Posted by: sukeroki on 31 Jul 09

Very respectfully, to whom it may concern: "Solar Tree" and "Solar Grove," as they pertain to and describe parking lot solar arrays and parking structure solar arrays are registered trademarks of Envision Solar International, Inc. While we respect and admire the efforts and work of the entire solar industry, we reserve the exclusive right to use these terms to describe parking lot solar arrays and parking structure solar arrays.

Unrelated to our trade names, we're absolutely thrilled to see that architects, designers, and many others see parking lots in a similar light as we do.

Highest regards to all, Jim Trauth Envision Solar

Posted by: Jim on 31 Jul 09

Pretty, but you're going to get some shading of some solar panels by other panels with the design as shown. Until PV becomes as cheap as leaves, you'll want to use awnings that don't shade each other.

Posted by: Tom Konrad on 31 Jul 09

You could put gutters around the leaves to handle rain.

Posted by: Andrew Raskin on 2 Aug 09

You could put gutters around the leaves to handle rain.

Posted by: Andrew Raskin on 2 Aug 09

Beautiful solution to our pending challenge to provide efficient, functional charging stations for electric vehicles. It's great to see design take such a large role in the smart transformation of our society.

Posted by: gangerdesign on 3 Aug 09

I feel like this is still a very intermediary idea, since it still involves massive paved parking lots. Not to mention the notion that to be truly attractive, the solar trees would need to be varied in appearance- somewhat dynamic. This may decrease efficiency of energy gained, but I think it would inrease the happy factor of people looking at it.

Posted by: Sam R on 3 Aug 09

I'm all for emerging technologies but the Obama Administration is definitely not the answer. The current electrical grids would be challenged with an increase in eletric vehicles. Please keep investigating the technology but don't force it on us. $2 Billion to Brazil for oil...we could have used that.

Posted by: SKEPTIC on 21 Aug 09

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