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The Giving Tree [UPDATED 9 Feb 2015]

A beautiful tree that generates wind energy used for public needs: street lighting, charge phones, provide wifi and music. A self-sustaining energy source for community building.

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
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The Wind Tree could help communities take control of their energy future, working as a self-sustaining energy source for community building. People could do their community activities around these trees, taking advantage of the energy generated. For example, the Green Tree could provide electricity for street lamps and use the excess electricity to feed back into a community center.
The Wind Tree’s leaves are made of a very lightweight plastic that can generate power easily as they can spin in a breeze as faint as 4.4 mph (2 meters/second). When all 72 noise-free turbines rotate, each Wind Tree can produce an average of 3.1 kW of power, enough to power 15 streetlights. To this original design, we could incorporate the following features to make it more community driven: LED light bulbs, phone chargers, music system, a dashboard with useful information (e.g. how much greenhouse gases we are avoiding to generate) and wifi. 
IMPLEMENTATION: Surpassing Barriers [updated 2/7/15]
Every wind project has three main barriers: wind availability, location and cost. Given the Wind Tree’s design the first two barriers are effectively surpassed, so we need to focus on the cost.

1) WIND: Since these Trees work with soft breezes, the wind availability does not jeopardize the project.

2) LOCATION: its lack of noise, beautiful aesthetics and small size (8m diameter x 11m height) makes it ideal for any urban setting, such as squares, parks, museums or universities. Being located in urban areas also helps to create awareness of the global warming issue.

3) COST: These Trees are not cheap (€29,500 - $33,379), and might been seen as a questionable short term economic investment: If the tree can generate 3KWh of power for an average of 15 hours a day, for 300 days a year, it would produce 13,500 kWh per year. If the local wholesale price is $0.12 per kWh, $1620 per year gross sales on an installed investment of about $33,000 is only a 5% gross return, without even considering capital, operating and maintenance costs.
However, we should never forget that there are several implicit costs not considered in this simplistic financial exercise. By burning fossil fuels we are polluting the environment and putting a mortgage on the future of the upcoming generations. Moreover, we should also consider other needs that these trees fulfill such as decoration and renewable awareness.
We had five ideas on how to make the investment easier:
i) Institutions: Governments/museums/universities buying them to generate power for the people; 
ii) Crowdfunding -- could work as a partnership with Andreas' idea “  A Revolving Fund for Solar Energy”: raise money through crowdfunding to put Wind Trees on communities’ nonprofits and cooperatives. As these organizations pay us back, we reinvest the money into more Trees; 
iii) Business: For example a trendy restaurant in LA ‘plants’ three of these trees outside their store not only to attract curious customers, but also to use the generated electricity and sell the excess back to the grid. This approach could also work with hotels or outdoor shopping malls providing electricity to the stores. Other interested player could be a firm like Google that would ‘plant’ the Trees on their campus; 
iv) Individuals: These trees can cover the average US family energy need, and sell the exceeding back to the grid. Once the investment is repaid, you have free energy!! 
v) Community: Actually, the Green Tree generates enough energy to serve 2.4 families. So the cost can be split among two households!

[updated 2/9/15]
Interview with New Wind, the company that created the Wind Trees
Find attached the whole document. However, the key highlights are:
- By 2016 they will be launching the first batch of Green Trees in mass production
- They understand their user as companies working in energy, urban planning, real estate, and builders of eco-districts.
- They have not analyzed the possibility of selling internationally yet
- They are working in reducing the price 

All in all, New Wind is still working on the technical side, and seems to underestimate the huge potential of the Green Trees. They might achieve a better strategic positioning if they approach their business in a more user centered design way.


What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

The Wind Tree is ideal for developed urban settings. An ideal community for these trees could be Chicago - a city that combines affordability with desirability. Having wind, budget and taste for art, the city of Chicago is a great place to ‘plant’ these trees. However, we should not limit to windy cities, since these trees can work with very soft breezes (4mph). Considering that 88% of the US consumers prefer to use renewable electricity, these trees can work in basically any urban setting. People could use these trees for their community activities, taking advantage of the energy generated. Another key players are Universities. Students can gather around these Trees to study and do their activities.

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

This Tree is the first real possibility to generate wind energy within a city on a large scale. By surpassing the three previously mentioned barriers, it helps communities rapidly transition to renewables. The more Giving Trees we ‘plant’ the more green energy will grow, replacing fossil fuels consumption. Having them on public spaces will also generate awareness of this issue.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The original Wind Tree has been prototyped three times in France and during the upcoming months will launch to the market at a price of €29,500. Prototyping the Giving Tree as a whole won’t be cheap nor lightweight. But we could apply a more user-centered approach, checking out how people react to the aesthetics and uses of this tree, even though it’s not actually generating energy. After talking and surveying my classmates at Chicago Booth, I found out that not many would walk into the park just to sit next to this tree... but if the tree was located next to the (football) field then it would be really useful, both for them and for the people watching

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

What other community activities could be done around these trees? This idea has been growing faster after different brainstorming sessions we had with Natalie (see attached pic), if anyone is interested in joining the next session just let us know!

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

  • Wind

This idea emerged from:

  • A Group Brainstorm


Join the conversation:

Photo of Collin Acord

Hello, and congratulation. For a school Project I am making a model of the system and am focusing on the manufacturing part of it. If there any flaws in making them now and how could it be made better and faster and possibly cheaper. I am going to be making a model of it! Any feedback and information would be amazing. Thanks

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