Bringing Solar Energy to Northwestern
Smart, Sustainable Design
SmartTree is a student-driven design project to build a solar energy charging station at Northwestern. A seating area where visitors can enjoy a beautiful day outside while using their laptops and mobile devices without their batteries running out. An impactful, educational tool to display what sustainable energy can look like in our everyday lives. And most importantly, a source of clean energy that everyone on Northwestern’s campus can access.
SmartTree was an idea born in Engineers for a Sustainable World at Northwestern in 2013. Our student team, representing various majors across the University, wanted to do something impactful with the few solar panels we had at our disposal--something that anyone could be a part of and that could bring people together for a sustainable practice. After many hours of designing and calculating, our team has fleshed out the details and designed our first iteration of what would be known as the SmartTree. Eight tall poles will hold our solar panels high in the sky so they can effectively gather light and convert it to renewable electricity. A solid trunk will support its weight, and a table will surround its center so that a group of people can gather together under the tree's branches. Multiple AC and USB outlets will allow for easy charging of any device. Even the benches willl be sustainable, as they will be made of recycled brick bottles encased in concrete. With your help, our design will be assembled on the beautiful South Lawn of the Norris University Center.
Over the past two years, we have conducted research, collected funds, performed outreach, and redesigned our sketches until we reached our current design below. Now, we are testing our design using CAD software and planning out a prototype of the tree and brackets.
Deep inside the SmartTree there will also be full electrical design features including a maximum power point tracker, battery management system, and inverter to ensure safe operation. We will also place a digital screen above the table to display how much energy the tree has collected and used, which will raise awareness of sustainability in our community.
A Brighter Future
We have made some great progress, but we are approaching a critical moment in the design process. With a little more effort and support, we can make the SmartTree become a reality this year. After completing further computational testing and stress analysis, we plan to build a prototype that will allow us to do physical load testing and to determine any final design changes that need to be made before construction. While doing so, we hope to start building the benches with the help of Northwestern student groups, SEED and Concrete Canoe. Our final steps will be sharing our results with the Office of Sustainability at NU and Facilities Management, who can then help us start the building process. But before we build, we need materials.
How can I help?
We need your help to bring the SmartTree to life. Become the foundation of our project and help enable us to purchase the aluminum, the solar panels, and the other materials needed to make this blueprint become a reality. By donating to our cause, you are planting the seed that will grow into a symbol of sustainability that the entire Northwestern community can be proud of.
You can also help us by spreading the word about our efforts and goals. Share this Catalyzer page with your friends, family, and anyone interested in promoting sustainability! We want everyone to get excited about the next big thing coming to the Northwestern Evanston campus. Be sure to follow our updates here.
Thank you so much for your support, and we hope to see you at the Tree!