The Solar Tree
Engineering students design, build solar energy feature on campus
MARIETTA, Ga. (Jun 20, 2019) — Following a yearlong collaborative effort, Kennesaw State University engineering students have unveiled a towering steel-framed “solar tree,” a mechanical structure mimicking the look of a real tree capable of generating 200 watts of electricity.
The tree – designed, constructed and installed by students pursuing degrees in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering – was built to showcase the prospects of solar energy and the University’s commitment to sustainability. The tree, located outside the Engineering Technology Center on the Marietta Campus, collects solar energy during the daytime and stores it in an underground battery bank. At night, the collected electrical energy is used to illuminate a nearby sign featuring the University logo.
To complete the project, about 20 students conducted extensive research and worked as a team to conceptualize the tree using a computer-aided design program. During the first phase of the project, mechanical engineering students, advised by associate professor Valmiki Sooklal, crafted a structure capable of withstanding Category 2 hurricane. In the second phase, electrical engineering students designed and performed prototype experiments on solar energy harvesting circuits and battery storage systems under supervision of Sandip Das, assistant professor of electrical engineering and the principal investigator for the project.
Students worked with KSU’s Department of Facility Services to wire and install the electrical systems of the tree, which was funded by the Division of Global Affairs through the Annual Country Study Program.
“This experience is helpful because our students are being exposed to managing a large-scale project,” said Das, who conceived the project last summer. “It’s a design that had to be revised many times and had to stand the test of time. The standards you have to maintain are very similar to what you’d encounter in industry.”
Acrylic leaves were made using a laser cutter in the Department of Architecture’s Digital Fabrication Lab, with each leaf containing 376 solar cells. In all, the tree contains 752 individual solar cells and 32 sub-circuits which required students to solder more than 500 joints to complete the system. The tree is also connected to the internet and exports real-time data to be used by future students for research, diagnostic exams and making further improvements.
– Travis Highfield
Photos by David Caselli and Submitted
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.