The beautiful days in Chicago this summer have made me think about how I would love to be able to plug in on Northwestern’s beautiful Lakefill using the power of Solar Energy! In other news, the club is on break for the summer, but our summer fellow, Allie, is busy developing the bracket that will move us one step closer to the completion of our project.
A big challenge in our project is creating something that meets our basic idea (a structure that uses solar energy to charge your phones/laptops), while making sure the rest of our design is not only appealing to look at, but also continues to project ideas of sustainability. A big problem for us was deciding on what sort of seating to install on the tree. We needed something affordable, but we wanted it to look nice, and be sustainable! Our first thoughts were recycled plastic and wood, but we were unable to find a merchant that could give us the sizes and shapes we needed as well as suit our budget. Then one day, SEED (Students for Ecological and Environmental Development at Northwestern University) came to us with an idea. The wanted to create benches that used old plastic bottles as filler. The benches are built from “bricks” that are stuffed with old plastic bottles, non recyclable plastic bags, and plastic wrappers. The benches are low cost and are customized around the SmartTree project! It was perfect for us!
Until next time!
The Spring Quarter wrapped up in the past couple weeks at Northwestern, and ESW does not plan to meet over the summer; however, we have made great progress this year overall! Through the past three quarters, we’ve finalized our design, done several informal mockups, created the design in CAD, and worked extensively on a solution for mounting the solar panels. Recently, we have been mapping out the electrical system and refining our bracket design.
A map of the electrical system.
We have also worked on more aesthetic aspects of our design – including what kind of table and benches to use. We are teaming up with another group at Northwestern in order to create benches made out of old plastic bottles. This further contributes to our theme of renewable energy/resources and sustainability.
For this summer, we will have a student – working under a summer fellowship program – further our work on the bracket.
Our first introduction post can be found here.
SmartTree was born out of Northwestern’s Student Club, Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) when we found out we had some solar panels that had been donated to the university that were not in use. ESW brainstormed with all of its members and came up with various ideas and uses for them. After voting, the idea that was decided upon was SmartTree! What does it do, exactly?
SmartTree will be placed on the lawn of the university’s student center and is designed to harness the power of solar energy to charge your phones and other electronic devices. The eight solar panels and the sun will store energy into a battery in the base of the solar tree. This energy can then charge your phones through 5 volt USB ports or anything else through 120 V outlets. There are also benches and a table built into it, so that students may work outdoors, have meetings, or just hang out around the tree, all while enjoying the power of renewable energy!
We recently completed a final sketch of the SmartTree, though are working on perfecting various details.
One particular challenge we are tackling right now is the design of the bracket that will be used to mount the solar panels to the “trunk” of the tree. Using NX Unigraphics, we mocked up an initial design, and then conducted a load analysis.
Obviously, we still have a lot more work to do.
The Design Thinking and Communication course at Northwestern creates groups of engineering students and assigns them to a client, in this case the Northwestern Clean Energy Project. The students learn the general process of engineering design, from initial research, brainstorming, user testing, and client interaction. They also learn how to effectively communicate their findings and design through a final presentation and report. This particular project, the SmartTree, aims to create awareness about solar energy as a source for renewable power, and its implementation will teach students about project planning, public outreach, energy systems, and construction.
The SmartTree will be located on the lawn of the university student center and will provide a social gathering place where students can meet and charge their electronics (cell phones and laptops) using the solar energy captured by the solar panels. Since the tree is entirely student-driven, it will promote and reinforce the university’s commitment to supporting student-driven sustainability efforts.
The SmartTree consists of eight solar panels which will provide energy to two AC Outlets and 4 USB Ports. Current and voltage sensors will be wired inside the trunk of the tree to monitor the power output of the solar panel and display the energy savings through an LCD screen. Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) will be adopted to draw maximum power from solar panel.