When General Motors unveiled its new solar tree at its plant in Warren, Mich., this week, it didn’t just announce its commitment to renewable energy, it introduced the world to a an exciting technology.
Companies have been building solar trees, generally used for shaded solar-power-generating parking, for years. But this one is different, said Envision Solar CEO Desmond Wheatley.
Envision started building solar trees six years ago, which in the solar industry, makes it a relatively mature business.
“But this is the first one we’ve ever built that actually tracks the sun,” Wheatley said. “The tracker actually moves the entire 6-ton array through the sky during the day so it can keep its orientation to the sun and maximize energy production.”
Most solar tracking technology swings the panel to follow the sun. But that wouldn’t work in parking applications, Wheatley said. If the array swings into driving lanes, fire departments and building departments tend to object.
So Envision had to find a new solution.
“It bows,” Wheatley said.
The new tracking solar tree bows gracefully to the sun, like a loyal worshiper, without ever losing its lineal alignment, Wheatley said.
That’s a major accomplishment.
That, and the sheer mass of this particular solar tree make it a landmark in the evolution of solar parking structures, Wheatley said.
The massive array balances on a single column.
“That was essential because columns and parking don’t mix,” he said.
Yet, it’s big enough to shade six cars and produces enough electricity to fully charge six vehicles per day.
GM unveiled the array with pride this week, announcing that it plans to increase the amount of power it gets from renewable sources by 25 percent.
Wheatley said GM has committed to rolling out Envision Solar’s sophisticated new solar trees at dealerships all over the country.
The company is poised for growth with installations at major companies, including McDonalds, all over the country and new contracts for its elegant tracking tree. It will begin installing one at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., in January, Wheatley said. The lab is already home to one of the company’s earlier models.
“There are 800 million parking spaces in America,” Wheatley said. “And there no reason they shouldn’t all be shaded with solar trees.”