While driving down Richmond, we noticed the ample amount of roof top space that goes almost completely unused. Upon further investigation, we discovered how Commercial and Residential Usage accounts for over 51.8% of the total energy consumption. Surprisingly, renewable energy only accounts for 6% of Virginia's total energy generation. This is drastically behind the US average of 16% for renewable energy.
What it does
The purpose of the SolarTree is to be able to provide a minimally invasive solution to the problem of increasing costs of electricity, the electricity being wasted, and the minimize the hazards of the electrical lines used in providing the electricity. The model of the SolarTree consists of a tree like structure consisting of 2 or 3 leaves that have solar panels embedded inside of them. The solar panels will absorb electricity, and store the power in a box of a set size under the tree. From here, the box will be wired to the building to provide the electricity. Doing it this way eliminates the need for huge power lines from power plants and controls how much energy is being used and wasted. This will allow for a lot more efficiency in power consumption when it comes to generating power, as it only generates a set amount and used as the user needs it. Ideally, these units will be placed on top of buildings where there won’t be much interference with the environment, leaving the environment undisturbed. The way that it all comes together models the average modern tree. The entire system consists of a base (where the electricity is stored), a rotating rod (where the stems and wires will all connect), and the stem / leaves themselves (where the solar panels are used). The solar panels will adjust accordingly during the set times of the day using a set of preprogrammed instructions, in particular in the morning to the afternoon, to maximize the about of solar energy absorbed and electricity generated. After the time has passed, the tree will go into idle mode, preserving as much electricity as needed until the next charge. In the case where electricity runs out, the tree will pull power from other trees.
Challenges and Solutions
There was a lot of debate about the design of the tree including the thickness of the pole and the size of the solar panels. To calculate how many solar panels, we needed for a mid- size apartment, we first noted that 75% of the units were 2-bedrooms and 25% were 1-bedroom apartments. The apartment that we chose had 12 stories, which is a typical number of floors an apartment has. Each floor has 20 rooms, so therefore we have 240 units total. The average amount of kWh consumed in a 2-bedroom is ~1500kWh per month, and a 1 bedroom has an average of ~500kWh consumed per month. Multiplying that all out by the number of rooms by each respective bedroom unit, we were able to calculate the total number of kWh consumed by the whole apartment complex per month.
From this, we were able to calculate the number of solar panels that are needed to supply this amount. For the solar panel that we found, the wattage it was able to produce was 260 W. After doing the calculations, we found that the solar panel produced 1.01kWH per day. For our specific roof top for the apartment we chose, we found that we could include 292 panels which allowed us to produce 29.5% of the apartment’s total energy consumption per day out of 1000kWH, using a 2-layer tree. With the 3- layer tree we are able to incorporate 438 panels. This new configuration allowed us to generate 442kwH per day, allowing us to provide 44.2% of the total power consumption. However these values, do not take into account, the rotation of the solar panel, which allowed us to capture more light from the sun, improving the efficiency by 38%.