University of California Tops Garages with Solar-Power Steel ‘Trees’

University of California San Diego, as part of an environment and sustainability initiative that started in 2005, has begun a unique “forestation” program at its La Jolla campus near San Diego. Steel solar trees have been planted on top of two garages, creating a “Solar Grove” to provide shade and clean energy. The creation of the Solar Grove is the brainchild of Envision Solar International’s Robert Noble, a sustainable architect and a disciple of Biomimicry. Biomimicry is a relatively new science that studies models, systems, processes and elements that occur in the natural environment, and then imitates or takes creative inspiration from them to solve human problems. “Biomimicry asks why is it so often that functional things such as transmission lines and parking lots and garages are so ugly?” explained Pam Stevens Envision Solar Executive Vice President to CPN. “These trees are really beautiful. And from a cost effective standpoint, for the retail side of the meter, UCSD is getting more advantages and benefits beyond the cost effective energy. Other similar structures will be installed in other parts of the city, and we’re hoping to be part of the San Diego Gas Electrics’ plans for large-scale photovoltaic parking shade installations throughout the city.” Kyocera Solar, the global supplier of solar power systems, is providing the photovoltaic panels. Borrego Solar, a national solar contractor based in El Cajon, Calif. is the installer. Solar Power Partrners of Mill Valley, Calif., is financing and will own the solar photovolatic arrays. The bio-gas fuel cells are paid for, constructed and owned by The Linde Group, a global industrial gas and engineering company. “ ‘Renewable energy is homeland security’ is the big new bumper sticker out here,” Noble told CPN. And UCSD’s deployment here will be a hallmark project to demonstrate their leadership in building a sustainable campus. We’re extremely proud of the beauty and the value we are bringing to the entire community here in San Diego.”He adds that solar parking arrays are solar that you can see. If its on a rooftop you can’t really see it, and in the desert you can’t see it. “But when its integrated into a shaded structure in public spaces like food courts,and plazas, it gets the renewable energy future into the public view. This is 21st century urban design at its best,” he said.The solar trees will provide electricity for 40-50 years. Instead of a column, they have an industrial strength steel ‘trunk’. The foundation is the ‘taproot’. Instead of having tapered cantilevered beams, they have branches, and the top canopy of photovoltaic modules providing shade for about 8 cars, is the ‘leaf-canopy’. These associations are very accurate, according to Noble, who said , “I think its fair to say that solar trees are far superior to organic trees, and from a number of major energy points of view. For example, 25 percent of electrical energy in the state of California is used to pump water..These trees won’t need water for their entire lives. They will provide better and more consistent shade. One solar tree displaces more carbon dioxide than an organic tree of the same size, and will produce electricity.”U.C. San Diego has recently completed $58 million in energy retrofits, saving the university more than $12 million per year. They are applying to the California Public Utilities Commission for $50 million to perform energy retrofits in older buildings, and will be replacing their fleet of vehicles with biodiesel, electric, natural gas and hybrid engines. The university is now recyling more than 40 percent of their wastes and anticipates becoming a zero-waste campus by the year 2020.