To research, design, build and test a solar mobile power source with the following design considerations: mobility, innovation and aesthetics.
The Solar Tree Project began with a simple idea: "Hey, wouldn't it be cool to make some kind of solar tree?" The thought wasn't much more complete than that; just a simple question.
Undergraduates at UC San Diego's Engineers for a Sustainable World picked up the idea and ran with it. Throughout the brainstorming and research, they we eventually settled on the concept of a "Mobile Solar Charging Station" that we hoped would resemble something "organic" in aesthetics, like a tree. Since then, things have developed along a different but related trajectory.
Every individual in each of their own capacities contributed to the still-evolving Solar Tree Project. The diagram below is a conceptual map that shows how we've gotten to the place we're at now.
An idea sparked an application process; around the idea in our successful application, we created a team. In that team, we separated into subgroups to facilitate more efficient research that finally feeds into the structural design process. When we're satisfied with the design and its structural analysis, we'll move into the build stage.
The National Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) in collaboration with SunEdison sent out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the college chapters of ESW. The RFP outlined two project types: Solar Powered Cargo Ships and Green Island Power Generation and Resource Management. The UC San Diego chapter of ESW quickly decided to submit letters of intent for both categories, the Solar Tree Project falling under the Green Island guidelines.
ESW asked members of the local American Solar Energy Society (ASES) in San Diego, called the San Diego Renewable Energy Society (SDRES), if they were interested in advising them on the project. SDRES accepted.
Joseph Ocampo assumed the position of Project Manager and submitted the Letter of Intent on December 3, 2010 with the support of the community advisers from SDRES, Kurt Lund and Charlie Johnson, and the faculty adviser of UC San Diego's ESW, Jan Kleissl. Soon afterward, Hien Nguyen joined as Technical Manager.
After approval of the letter of intent, the team gathered the support and advice of faculty of UC San Diego, including Byron Washom (Director of Strategic Energy Initiatives), Kevin Norris (Associate Engineer in Building Commissioning and Sustainability) and Dave Weil (Director of Building Commissioning and Sustainability).
On January 21, 2011, the team submitted the official Proposal, with letters of support from Jan Kleissl, Dave Weil, Kurt Lund and Charlie Johnson. The team was ultimately awarded $10,900 under the ESW/SunEdison Grant at the end of February.
After splitting into groups, the leaders researched their respective subjects with their teams.
Solar Panels (Photovoltaics, PV)
Lauren Rueda, the leader of the Solar Team, investigated the technology behind PV and different types of PV in the market. In researching, she and her team found the following types of photovoltaics that interested us in our early conceptual designs. Below is a sample.
Organic Photovoltaics: Organic Photovoltaics (OPV) caught our attention early in the research process. The "organic" in OPV refers to the material its made of: carbon-based polymers or other small carbon-based molecules. It should not be confused with the common-use sense of the word "organic," referring loosely to a natural, earthy quality..
As the picture to the left demonstrates, both seemed the perfect candidates for a solar tree. With OPV, we could create a structure that truly mimicked the aesthetic of a plant. This was made possible because OPV could be made into different patterns, as it can be attached to flexible bases.
Some of our early designs reflected this ambition. Unfortunately, OPV proved to be a very new technology. Not only was getting it going to be a challenge, but the efficiency made it infeasible.
OPV commonly has an efficiency in the single digits. To generate enough power to recharge a utility vehicle, we would need an absurdly large amount of it to cover a vast area. We figured this out soon enough.
UC San Diego's Utility Vehicle Fleet