Solar trees: Your guide to this fast-growing solar trend
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The solar industry in America is growing at a rate of 33% annually. Any industry growing at such extraordinary rates is bound to see rapid innovation. In solar, these innovations have come in the form of new designs and improved technology. One such design innovation is the solar tree, also known as the solar panel tree.
You may be thinking: "wait, aren’t all trees, in essence, solar trees?" You would be correct: all trees do in fact rely on solar energy to survive and grow. However, the solar trees we'll discuss in this article are different from the trees you find in nature: they are much more ‘solar’ than they are a tree.
Solar trees are solar panel installations designed to look like regular trees. They usually have a single long pole installed into the ground, mimicking a tree tunk. The pole holds up large solar panels; these are either placed together at the very top of the pole, or are connected to the pole at varying heights and directions, just like branches on a tree.
Solar trees fall under the broader category of ground-mounted solar panels. What distinguishes a solar tree from other types of solar setups is its unique design.
The concept emerged in different places around the same time, so it’s hard to say who was first. Over the years, it has been tested and refined by various solar manufacturers from all around the world.
Here are some of the factors that make solar trees stand out:
Spotlight and Beam Global are the leading manufacturers of solar trees in America, while Smartflower offers a similar product, a solar flower.
With their unique yet simplistic design, Spotlight Solar intends to make solar energy more visible and compelling. They come in four types of designs: lift, curve, trestle, and industry.
With more than 200 color schemes to choose from and options to embed your brand's logo on the structure, these solar trees look unique.
While Spotlight does not offer sun-tracking capability, their unique designs can be made to optimize solar production for different locations.
Spotlight has already undertaken some notable projects, including installations at the Kennedy Space Center and the Florida Zoo.
Beam Global (formerly Envision Solar) is another leading solar tree manufacturer. Their solar trees are primarily built for efficiency and usability. They look less like a solar tree, and more like a solar canopy or solar carport.
Their standard solar tree is mounted on a single central tower, with a 35 square-foot 60 module solar photovoltaic panel, a solar array mounted on top. They come with a 30-year warranty on the PV cells and the inverter.
Beam Global also offers an EV charging station called the EV Arc. In these stations, solar trees produce energy that is stored in batteries, which is then used to charge electric vehicles at any time of the day or night.
More of a solar flower than a solar tree, the Smartflower comes with an automated sun tracker, in-built cleaning system and is one of the easiest solar panels to install. If you’re curious about the Smartflower, be sure to check out our detailed review.
How do solar trees stack up against their (far) more popular sibling, standard solar panels? Here’s a side-by-side comparison.
|Solar tree||Solar panels|
|Cost*||$40,000 - $80,000 for a 1.8 to 5.4 kW system from Spotlight Solar**||$18,000 for a 6 kW system using Tier 1 solar panels|
|Target market||Commercial properties looking to make a bold statement||Homes and businesses looking to minimize electric bills|
|Installation location||Must be installed on the ground; doesn't require much space||Works best on a rooftop or large open space|
|Practicality||Might have more real-world applications in the future||Already a cost-effective way to cut electric bills and help the environment|
*Prices shown before applying the 26% federal tax credit
**Cost listed on Spotlight Solar's website in April 2022.
For both residential or business customers, standard solar panels are by far the most cost-effective and efficient way to make use of solar energy.
Installing a solar tree is much more expensive, so only really makes sense if you fit one of the following descriptions:
1. Local governments or councils looking to showcase their support for any current solar energy schemes by installing solar trees in public areas. Communities in Florida have come together to get solar trees installed in zoos, museums, airports, and parks around Florida.
2. A school or educational institution looking to inspire young minds. A well-designed solar tree can work as a tool to showcase the coming together of technology and design.
3. Private companies wanting to advertise their support for renewable energy. Many companies across America are already doing this. Nothing screams, “We love solar energy!” more than a fancy-looking solar tree by the main entrance.
4. Locations that do not have any available space for solar panels. If you cannot install solar panels on your roof and have no available space on the ground, then a solar tree is a viable option.
Solar trees offer a new and exciting way to collect energy. As the world moves towards adopting solar power, solar trees will serve the purpose of showcasing and celebrating solar energy. Also, as technology continues to develop and more companies enter the market, it is certain that the cost of solar trees will reduce.
If you are an individual or business keen on showing your support for solar energy, consider teaming up with local businesses and councils to purchase one. A solar tree installed in your local park or a street corner can serve as a great symbol of your commitment to sustainability, and add aesthetic value to your business or locality.
On the other hand, if you want to maximize your electric bill savings while helping the environment, then standard solar panels with the 26% tax credit are a no-brainer, both for residential and commercial properties. If you’re curious about solar panels for your home, use the solar calculator below to get more information.