Clean Energy Grows on Trees in San Diego's Latest Solar Grove

Pamela Stevens, Envision Solar International, Inc.
Special Collaboration


The University of California, San Diego, which strives to be one of the nation's "greenest" college campuses, has undertaken a forestation program in an unlikely place - the roof of two of its parking garages. Steel components have already taken shape, forming the framework for Solar Trees that will soon be fitted with a canopy of Kyocera photovoltaic modules to provide clean energy for the campus, shade for vehicle parking, future infrastructure for electric vehicles, and a pleasant visual surprise on the top of the garage.

The Solar Tree is native to San Diego, the creation of Envision CEO Robert Noble, a sustainable architect with an Ivy League education and deep roots in his hometown of San Diego. Mr. Noble was CEO of local architectural firm Tucker, Sadler when Kyocera International commissioned a project to transform an employee parking lot into a showpiece for its photovoltaic panels, and an architectural landmark that won recognition from the American Institute of Architecture.

Both the award-winning design of the Kyocera Solar Grove in Kearny Mesa and the UCSD Solar Grove are based on the principles of bio-mimicry, the discipline that takes concepts from nature and employs them in architecture. The design of the Solar Tree is based on natural trees, with trunks and branches supporting a shade canopy. "As sustainable architects, we at Envision Solar are committed to adding beauty and form to the functionality of solar power generation, and integrating it with the overall design of the site," said Mr. Noble.

Each Solar Tree at UCSD will generate more than 17 000 h/y of clean energy, which is enough to power more than four single-family homes. Each Solar Tree avoids 13,2 t of CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the Solar Tree design offers the option to install an outlet for electric vehicle charging; effectively, UCSD's rooftop Solar Groves will provide some of San Diego's first electric vehicle infrastructure.

"This photovoltaic installation marks an historic event for a campus that has become a living laboratory for climate change solutions," said Steve Relyea, Vice Chancellor of Business Affairs. "Our sustainable energy program is the result of a campus-wide commitment by students, faculty and administration to advance environmental sustainability on a local, national and global level." UC San Diego's green energy program will continue to unfold over the next year.

Mr. Noble added, "We at Envision Solar are proud to support UCSD with our design for a bio-mimetic renewable energy installation at the cutting edge of solar integrated architecture." Robert Noble will be co-presenting the concept of site-integrated photovoltaics, including the UCSD design, at the upcoming Conference of the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) with UCSD's Dr. Lisa Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Sustainability Initiative.

The University of California, San Diego is one of the premier research universities in the nation. In June 2005, it announced the formation of a campus-wide Environment and Sustainability Initiative to bring together the intellectual resources of the campus around the challenges of sustainability. Building on more than 100 years of excellence, including pioneering work in climate sciences, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the initiative incorporates its other assets - the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, as well as the traditional disciplines in engineering, biological, physical, health, and social sciences; humanities, and the new Rady School of Management.

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