Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Generating power from the sun is primarily the tree’s idea which humans have adapted to and generate electricity or heat energy from it. Though our technology is not yet as efficient as the leafs on trees, we have managed to manufacture solar panels which can draw upto 600wp electricity from the sun from about 2.1m2 area. So this topic on solar trees mainly takes two turn which generally no one talks about, as only one of them is commercially available now-a-days while the second one is still in very initial stages and would take time to come out.
Plants are a huge inspiration, because they have learned over millions of years how to take up sunlight and store the energy in energy carriers. I really believe that artificial photosynthesis will be one part of that energy portfolio over the next two decades. - Erwin Reisner energy and sustainability professor at Cambridge University.
The two types of energy generating devices which derived their name from the trees / leaves of the trees can be classified as below.
1. Artificial leaves: Artifical leaves or Bionic leaves are a in development technology and is inspired by nature. Plants or the leafs in the plants use the suns energy to separate hydrogen from oxygen and uses it as its source of energy. A catalyst is used to separate these two elements using solar energy, developing which commercially is the tricky thing. Topping out this catalyst periodically is another challenge, and catalysts with extreme long life needs to be developed. Natural plants have sorted out this issue by drawing in minerals from the soil to replenish the natural catalysts.
Once we separate the hydrogen from oxygen, then sophisticated technology industries can be used to combine hydrogen with carbon-dioxide and draw energy from the hydrocarbons. This also solves the most important drawback of solar energy currently which is storing energy for night use. Reading all above its quite obvious that this artificial leaf technology is at-least two decades away from being used commercially on large scale.
2. Solar Trees: Solar trees which you might have brought you to this article, are nothing but innovatively designed solar plants. They generally have one column structure which support all the weight of the solar panels which are installed to give it a shape of a tree and its leafs. Advantages that the solar trees provide with are: - One primary advantage they provide with is saving a lot of space on ground. - The branches of the tree can be tilted in any angle to generate maximum solar energy from the sun at any time of the day. - Innovative new applications of the solar tree’s have been developed over the world which are mentioned below. - Very good aesthetics of the solar plant
Multiple solar companies have come up with their version of solar trees. The energy from these trees is not used to power the property on which it is installed, but to locally provide with multiple facilities off-grid. In case of a commercial property or a huge area, you might need some essential electronics on multiple corners of this property. For example, a solar tree with 2kW panels and battries can be installed to power a CCTV camera, wifi-router, led light and a emergency button (to be pressed to sound alarm for fire or other cases). This way all your property is covered with wifi and security without laying cables from one place to another !
CSIR-CMERI scientists in Bengal have managed to setup a 11.5kW solar tree which is the largest of its kind in the world. Second is the 8.4kW system installed in London. The bengal solar tree produces around 12,000–14,000 units of clean and green energy annually and has the potential to save 10–12 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere every year.
Articles you can read for more information on above topic:
Britannica - Artificial Leaves
The race to invent the artificial leaf
BBC - Creating fuel from thin air with artificial leaves
Hindustan Times - In Bengal, CSIR-CMERI scientists set up world’s largest ‘solar tree’
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