What Are Solar Trees? The Complete Guide To The Eco Trend Written by Beth Howell Updated on 14 July 2023 ✔ Solar trees are artificial tree structures, equipped with solar panels✔ A 1.8 kW tree will cost around £31,000, while a 5.4 kW unit can reach £62,500✔ They require minimal maintenance, apart from cleaning to remove debrisBritain has finally embraced the fact that solar panels are an excellent long-term solution for reducing energy costs. Not only does this help homeowners save on energy bills, but also means they can break even on the cost of solar panels.However, green technology is always evolving, and a new renewable trend has gained traction in recent months: solar trees.Solar trees are a futuristic method of harnessing solar power for electricity. They utilise existing solar panel technology but in a potentially revolutionary way.The cost of solar remains a barrier, as with most new technologies. But at present, solar trees are still an emerging new area of solar technology – and you probably have plenty of questions about them.That’s why we’ve created this expert guide to solar trees, covering the basics and discussing how they work, what the benefits of solar trees are, and how affordable they are. What's on this page? 01 What is a solar tree? 02 How do solar trees work? 03 What are the benefits of solar trees? 04 How affordable are solar trees? What is a solar tree?A solar tree is exactly what it sounds like: an artificial tree equipped with solar panels that generate and store clean energy from the sun.Typically constructed from metal, as well as carbon fibres and polymers, solar trees are designed to be both efficient and visually pleasing.They are increasingly featured in urban redevelopment projects because they utilise space more effectively than traditional solar panel installations.Solar trees are especially valuable in cities, where space is limited, and contribute to the sustainable-city revolution by combining functionality with aesthetic appeal.An excellent example of solar tree implementation is the famous Gardens by the Bay development in Singapore.In its Supertree Grove, 11 out of 18 man-made trees are equipped with solar panels, which power the area's lighting and water technology systems used in nearby conservatories.These solar trees have become central to the Gardens' status as a tourist attraction, featuring elevated walkways, observation decks, and regular music and light shows.While not all solar tree installations are as grand in scale, they play a crucial role in raising awareness of the emerging tech.Most installations can be found near parking lots, schools, or parks, serving the same purpose of generating energy to power nearby facilities and establishing a self-sustaining infrastructure.This makes solar trees a key component in shaping the future of sustainable cities. How do solar trees work?Solar trees work in a similar way to regular trees, absorbing sunlight and converting it into energy.While natural trees accomplish this through photosynthesis, solar trees achieve the same goal by capturing and converting sunlight into electricity using solar panels.Explaining how solar panels work is a topic in itself, but in short, solar panels contain photovoltaic cells. These cells house electrons that generate movement and create an electric current when stimulated by sunlight.This electricity can power various devices and appliances – either in real-time or after being stored for later use.The solar panels in a solar tree are typically placed on its branches. One significant advantage of solar trees is that the panels can be strategically positioned on the branches to maximise sun exposure throughout the day.Advanced solar trees even feature adjustable branches and panels that tilt and rotate throughout the day, following the natural movement of the sun to capture as much light as possible.The amount of energy generated by solar trees can vary greatly, ranging from 1.8 kilowatts (kW) to 16.4 kW.This makes solar trees suitable for a variety of applications. Solar trees can serve as independent and fully sustainable power sources for specific purposes, such as electric car charging or lighting.Lighting, in particular, is gaining popularity, due to the inherent design and form factor of trees.Commercial enterprises also utilise solar trees to offset their energy consumption, and they can potentially power homes, similar to solar panels installed on houses.For instance, a 2,000 square foot property would require a 5 kW solar panel system to be on the safe side and a solar tree would want the same output. What are the benefits of solar trees?Solar trees offer several benefits, from helping to maximise space in built-up environments, to charging electric cars and promoting general awareness of sustainable living. Let’s examine the four main benefits in more detail.1. Efficient use of spaceSolar trees represent the most space-efficient way to harness solar energy. While traditional solar panel arrays typically expand horizontally, solar trees utilise vertical space.This means solar trees require less land than solar panel installations, especially considering their ability to optimise sun exposure through the placement of photovoltaic cells.This makes solar trees particularly valuable in cities where space is limited. Similar to how skyscrapers and high-rise buildings make the most of available space, solar trees enable efficient utilisation of solar power.The shade provided by solar trees also helps counteract thermal energy reflected off common urban surfaces like asphalt, contributing to climate change mitigation.With more countries adopting solar power in a bid to become greener, we can expect to see new innovations popping up soon – some farms have even started turning their fences into solar fences.2. They can be used for multiple purposesOne of the significant strengths of solar trees is their versatility in generating electricity for various purposes. Solar trees can power homes, offices, and commercial enterprises.However, two standout applications are electric car charging and urban lighting.Considering the basic design and structure of lampposts, solar trees can seamlessly replace them, while generating all the required electricity. This makes solar trees a natural fit for parks, plazas, and other public spaces that require well-lit environments during the night.Parking lots, where electric car charging is increasingly necessary, are also ideal locations for solar trees. These outdoor public spaces present an even stronger case for solar trees, bringing us one step closer to building truly sustainable cities of the future.3. Promotes awareness of solarOne of the most significant benefits of solar trees lies in their ability to create a sense of excitement and awareness about sustainability and renewable energy.Solar trees are visually striking and become talking points wherever they are installed. They possess substantial creative potential, as demonstrated by Singapore's Bay Gardens.Even in more low-key settings, solar trees serve as focal points for local communities to engage in discussions about sustainability.The presence of solar trees signifies the integration of sustainability into our daily lives. Consequently, there is a potential cascading effect, leading to increased awareness and actions, such as more conscientious recycling.4. Minimal maintenance requiredSolar trees are constructed using durable materials, such as metal. As a result, they require minimal maintenance beyond occasional cleaning to remove debris from the panels.As a reference point, regular solar panels and solar roof tiles are recommended to have at least an annual clean.The exact maintenance requirements for solar trees may vary, depending on their location and specific conditions, but this gives you an idea of what to expect. Minimal maintenance also helps keep costs down in the long run, in keeping with the overall notion of solar trees as an investment.You can learn more about this by visiting our Complete Guide To Solar Panel Maintenance. How affordable are solar trees?That's the crucial question. Unfortunately, solar trees are currently not very affordable. While solar panel costs have significantly decreased in recent years, solar trees can still cost tens of thousands of pounds.A 1.8 kW solar tree will be around $40,000 (£31,000), while a larger 5.4 kW unit can reach up to $80,000 (£62,500). And for commercial-grade solar trees, top-end 16.5 kW units can cost as much as $100,000 (£78,000).These prices are considerably higher than regular solar panel installations. For example, a 3.5 kW solar panel setup for a house costs around £8,000. It's worth noting that these costs pose significant barriers to entry for individuals and even public institutions in the UK.SummarySolar trees are not yet ready to replace traditional solar panel installations, but they are undeniably a crucial part of the future of renewable energy, particularly in urban areas.Rather than viewing it as a competition between solar panels and solar trees, we see solar trees as an innovative way to maximise the potential of solar panel technology.Although cost remains a major obstacle, high-profile deployments in the UK over the next few years are likely to generate a ripple effect and spur wider adoption, just like electric car charging stations have suddenly boomed.Solar trees are therefore an exciting complement to existing solar technology systems, all of which exist to help us work towards the common goal of a more sustainable future. Written by: Beth Howell Content Manager Beth has been writing about green tech, the environment, and climate change for over three years now – with her work being featured in publications such as The BBC, Forbes, The Express, Greenpeace, and in multiple academic journals. Whether you're after a new set of solar panels, energy-saving tips, or advice on how to reduce your carbon footprint, she's got you covered.