Nov 20, 2011
Chris Salamone

GM Deploys Solar Power Blooms, EVs Suddenly Practical

Solar Tree Charging Station

Everyone knows the big issue with electric vehicles is range. There are lots of ways to look at the range problem, from battery life to recharging stations to aerodynamics, engine efficiency, and the like. Despite mounting consumer concerns over the future of electricity, the General has taken a stand at Warren, Michigan’s Company Vehicle Operations. GM is officially the first automaker to deploy parking lot solar power blooms which move with the sun and…collect enough solar energy to charge six electric vehicles per day.

These blooms, appropriately named Tracking Solar Trees, are built in America by a company called Envision Solar. They feature a hybrid multi-axis tracking design, which allows the entire canopy to follow the sun’s generous arc throughout the day. Well, not the complete arc…each Tracking Solar Tree is capable of 15 degree tilts which optimize aesthetics, energy production, shade, and maintenance.

Industry engineers (aka skeptics) may worry about energy losses resulting from a moving tracking arm being used to capture an already inefficient process. But Envision Solar claims their design increases clean renewable energy production by about 25 percent over traditional, stationary solar modules. In theory, one Tracking Solar Tree can capture and provide up to 30,000 kilowatt hours of energy a year – a number which translates to six electric vehicles per day or an incredible amount of household appliance use. Which begs the question: when can Joe the Plumber afford to put one on his lawn?

“We are constantly looking for places where we can add a renewable focus,” said Rob Threlkeld, GM global manager of renewable energy. “This solar tree is an ideal addition because not only does it provide a space to charge our electric vehicles, but it’s another step in our journey toward cleaner energy use.”

In the coming months GM plans to deploy many more blooms as a visible symbol of the company’s commitment to the environment and – a more economically rational reason – the viability of electric vehicles for the public at large. Unfortunately though, price remains an unavoidable factor in the race to make EVs a mass marketplace good. Presumably these solar power blooms are incredibly expensive in up-front costs, but perhaps government-led tax incentives and long-term electricity offsets are enough to justify GM’s solar bloom bet.

So far blooms are installed at Dell Headquarters, UCSD, St. Mary’s Medical Center, the City of Napa, and a few other progressive locations. GM’s use marks the first application of solar trees to electric vehicles, a move which appears to be the first real solution to range anxiety.

Check out Envision Solar’s ad spot:

Sources: GM, Envision Solar

1 Comment

  • Great article hopefully we can see more of these solar trees in more places.

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