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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

50 comments

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Comment
Photo of Collin Acord
Team

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

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Very cool Ramiro! Do you know how much energy the tree creates, in tangible terms? Will the batteries be able to store enough energy for the tree to provide lighting at night in a park? It could be a cool way to provide energy for activities and lighting in an urban park/playground/basketball court space that has no real trees. Night lighting can make these urban play spaces accessible and safe. This can activate a community and promote all sorts of physical activities for these spaces in the evenings weather permitting. Maybe partnering with an organization promoting health would be one avenue for funding?

Would be very cool to put this tree and the Solar Tree I posted in Natalie's Eco Park! https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/research/designing-community-spaces-using-solar-energy https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/climte-change-and-renewable-energy-education-through-environmental-stewardship-in-local-parks
Great post!

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Bettina, I am glad you like it!
The developers say this can extend to breezes blowing as slowly as two meters per second, making the turbine useful across more than 280 days of the year. Its power output is calculated at 3.1 kW. With that output it can definitively provide energy for night lightning!
I agree that it can work well at Natalie's eco park, thanks

Photo of Marine Barbaroux
Team

I Ramiro! I love the wind tree. It reminds me of a solar tree built in Bristol: http://www.demandenergyequality.org/solar-tree.html.
The energy produced us used to irrigate gardens. Perhaps this would be something your wind tree could do?

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Marine, that is a great example, thank!
It could definitively be something we can work on

Photo of Marine Barbaroux
Team

Congrats to having made it to the refinement stage, Ramiro! I wondered is you could pair the tree with a bench, and then:
- could get the tree to play some sound,
- linking it to a capacitive charger,
Then people could relax and top-up their phone, light, etc.
A bit like in airport or cafés do now http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/08/02/starbucks-mcdonalds-wireless-charging/2600699/

If people were sat for a while, I think there would also be potential for advertising, that could somehow help with the founding of the trees?

Moving forward, I think we perhaps need to think about a way to ensure the isn't vandalized in an urban environment?

I'd love to be part of a team working on this!

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Marine, thanks!
Yeah, we thought of including: LED light bulbs, phone chargers, music system, and wifi. The wireless charger looks cool too!

The advertising idea to help funding looks interesting! we will keep it in mind, thanks :)

What ideas do you have to promote community driven activities?

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi all.
I read about a large urban farming development and an Eco District as well, in the Southside of Chicago leading to some revitalization of that blighted area. Perhaps the Giving Tree can offer energy for a community like this - for programming? or become an opportunity to educate and highlight RE? http://inhabitat.com/chicago-approves-plan-for-urban-agriculture-eco-district-to-revitalize-southside-neighborhoods/
http://growinghomeinc.org/about-us

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Bettina!

That is a great idea. Perhaps it could pump water for these sorts of urban agricultural programs and provide lighting at night! Thank you for sharing these links. This would be a great potential use for the Giving Tree. Thank you for the idea!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Sure. I like your suggestions!

Photo of Michael Kolakowski
Team

I love this idea. I had not considered the aspect of raising community awareness as a bonus, but I now think that such awareness should be a key goal of any project for this challenge. If the people start noticing and talking about something, it can have wide-spread impact.

Photo of Marine Barbaroux
Team

Hi Ramiro and Natalie,
From a funding viewpoint, I wondered if you could buy and sell some of those turbines in small units?
I think you could create a "wind energy project" box for kids (and adults) in the spirit of http://www.teachersource.com/product/multi-project-solar-kit/energy-solar.

It'd contain:
- one or two tubines
- a couple of DIY projects (maybe charging your toy batteries? Using it to power a led light in your garden?)
- a description of the tree project,
- maybe a donation form?

This Benefit from the sales and potential donation could fund the community tree?

Photo of helene sourdeau
Team

Hi Ramiro! I love the wind tree.
Schools would be a great place for those. Could various sizes exist?
All the best.

Photo of Muath Khlifawi
Team

Hey there,

Since cost seems to be a huge obstacle as these trees do not come cheap, I was thinking about involving citizens in different countries. Here's how the scenario plays out:

- Individuals buy shares in one tree/multiple trees.
- Somehow (probably an app/website), real-time data about the electricity generated is sent to them keeping them engaged.
- At end of year, they receive a report with the total amount of electricity generated through their shares.
- This amount in Dollars is either converted into credit with their local electric company or as tax write-offs.

End result: motivating individuals to take ownership in those trees whilst keeping them engaged with real-time data about their trees. Most importantly, waiting for governments/NGOs to purchase the trees will not warrant mass-scale adoption. Ideas from here on should focus, in my opinion, on attracting the masses somehow. This was one attempt to do so!

Best of luck,
Muath

Photo of Joey Chy
Team

Congratulations!

Photo of Alper Yaglioglu
Team

Congrats Ramiro and Natalie! Your efforts have been really inspiring throughout the challange. Hope to see more progress. Great potential for direct impact! :)

Photo of Yuji
Team

Good post. I like the concept and its cosmetic design!

It could be also placed at schools for outdoor sports club, school events.
Also, many music festivals and rave which often appeals ecology. However, key of success is how to make users profitable with more simple way. "Saving money for future" is sometimes too far to think over for general people.

I would be facing following concerns as a potential user.

Reliability
Since I can recoup only 5% of initial investment, I would be curious
about life time and warranty. I would pay if I know I could recoup investments within 10 years by repairing it occasionally (but this could be recoupable too).

Cost
This makes me hesitate to pay the most. As far as Japan concerned, majority of them are interested in protecting earth, but does not feel it win-win to deteriorate their life. All the more, once cost issue is overcome, demand will decrease drastically!!

Degradation
Since the unit is installed in out side for long time, it can not be miserable after used for long time.

Hope this helps. Look forward seeing progress!

Photo of Will Honey
Team

Hi Ramiro and Team,

I really like this idea. It's such a great way of harnessing power while creating a nice feature in the environment. We could even locate them on the outskirts of the city where the wind speeds are higher and the trees can be made bigger to harness more power! We could almost create forests which would double up as recreational areas.
The average wind speeds in a city are typically around 3.5m/s. On the outskirts this could increase to 4.5m/s. Although this only sounds like a small increase, the potential power output increases to 6.51KW from the same tree - power available is proportional the wind speed cubed.

I'm looking forward to seeing this progress.

Will

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

So glad you got to chat with New Wind and that you ran the idea by some of your classmates at Booth. It seems like university campuses would be a great fit for prototyping this. I wonder if there are any engineering or design schools (or just undergrad universities!) who would be interested in creating their own, incorporating some of your design innovations and the suggestions from the OpenIDEO community, and getting a new model off the ground! It's a such a great idea and I love Sarah's wording in her comment below about "moving this from a galvanizing force to a scalable solution."

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Joanna,
Yeah, it would be interesting to see if the undergrad students are interested on doing something similar! If I get any feedback I will let you know

Photo of jamie dean
Team

Love this idea. One question on your interview with New Wind. You mention they plan to launch the first batch in 2016. Will they have any units available before then? Thanks!

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Jamie, I am glad you like it!
they will be producing 40 units during 2015, and have already installed 3 around France

Photo of Alisa Ahmadian
Team

Hi Ramiro + Team.

This is an incredibly innovative and beautiful idea- I love that the physical tree can serve as a conversation piece about renewable energy while it works!

One thought I had is that it would be great to set up a highly visible dashboard to go along with each Tree (or in some cases, a "forest" of Trees). The dashboard could be displayed on a public screen so that passerby can see how much energy the Tree is producing at any given time, and its stats over time. Another idea is to build an app that Tree purchases can download and connect to their own Trees so they can check in at any given time.

To put this idea into perspective, I'm thinking of your example of a trendy restaurant in LA that has purchased a few Trees. If they had a TV screen in the restaurant, it could occasionally transition to the Tree dashboard- very cool, right?

Forgive me if this already part of the package. I think that tying in the tree with a visual, in-motion element would really impress passerby...Great work!

Photo of Joey Chy
Team

Whoa. A forest of Trees.. ...

Photo of Joey Chy
Team

If you're looking for funding, maybe consider talking to the tourism board of an up and coming metropolitan city.

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Alisa, thanks for your comment! I think it'd be really great to have a dashboard, it could also show how much green house gases we are avoiding to generate..

Photo of Sarah Rizk
Team

Hi Natalie,
This looks cool! I think for you guys the major challenge is cost. How do you think about that in scaling this idea - would you expect the cost to fall along a learning curve as with other technologies? There was a similar proposal for doing solar artwork in Las Vegas I reviewed a few years back when I was at the EPA which might be worth looking at. I think this is awesome if you can project out falling cost economics, but would encourage you to develop some estimates on that because I think that's an important part of moving this from a galvanizing force to a scalable solution.

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Sarah,

Thank you for your comments! Yes, cost is currently a huge deterrent to this project. This has been our main focus for the refinement phase and we are looking at various funding options but realizing that this may not be the most economically viable project. We will post updates in a few days but I'd love to read more about the project in Las Vegas if there are some documents open to the public that you could share! Thank you for the tips on how to tackle the financial barrier :). Good luck to you and your team in refinement!

Photo of Ryan Williams
Team

This tree is so cool! Thanks for submitting. Of the barriers that you identified, #1 and #3 seem manageable. How else could you address the cost barrier? You mention the crowd sourcing model and I'm wondering if you have given a fee for service model much thought. Or even a business community sponsoring the installation to increase the amount of foot traffic.

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Ryan, thanks for your ideas!
Yeah, the cost barrier is the though one. While brainstorming with Natalie, we though of businesses sponsoring the tree, but couldn't come up with a bold idea.. we are still thinking on that, so if you have any other thought please share :)

Photo of Ryan Williams
Team

I would encourage you to be bold in your thinking! How would you imagine a business to benefit from installing a tree?

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Ryan, I have updated the post including a business approach, what do you think?

Photo of jamie dean
Team

I love this idea a lot! It is exciting to see opportunities for distributed wind. One overarching thought I have is about the use of the power generated by the tree. You mention it could be used for music/speakers, which seems like a non-essential activity in a community (fun and interesting but non-essential). I wonder if there's a way to refine this idea so that it can have even greater community impact. Perhaps the tree could provide electricity for street lamps, or feed back into a community center, or as you mention elsewhere, be used for cell phone charging. I think that if you could increase the focus on an existing community needs, it would strengthen the project.

You mention crowd-sourcing as an option to build out the financing options. Could you form an official partnership with one of these organizations?

Thanks!

Ciao, Jamie

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Jamie, thanks for your comment.
On the post we mention different uses for the electricity generated: LED light bulbs, phone chargers, music system, and wifi. We can definitively use the excess to feed back into a community center. I reckon I should emphasize this more!

I haven't talked with Andrea yet, but will soon :)

Thanks!

Photo of Amanda Rees
Team

Great idea, Ramiro! You mentioned that you might contact students and universities to assess interest in a Giving Tree project. Have you received any helpful feedback or input? Would you be willing to share some of the results? What aspects are most exciting or least exciting to the folks you've talked to? Looking forward to learning more about this project!

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Amanda!
I've talking with my fellow Booth students about how would they use the tree.
What I found out is 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 could have additional uses, both for them and for the people watching

Thanks!

Photo of Matt Renner
Team

This idea is really wonderful. These trees could also function as a consciousness-shifting sculpture to demonstrate the beauty and the function of systems that empower us while existing in harmony with nature.

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Matt,

It depends on the tree because you can alter the design a little. The standard is 72 turbines which only need 2m/s to generate ~3.1Kw. Pretty crazy right?! Do you see these wind trees potentially working with your microgrid hydrogen storage idea? We'd love to collaborate with you some more!

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

Love the title update, Ramiro :) and awesome to see you had a brainstorming session with Natalie! Don't forget to also indicate new updates in the body of your idea by putting the date next to the new information.

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

Ah yes, that makes sense. :) So many updates in there! I did get your email - thank you! I will reply soon.

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Joanna, thanks! We made changes all over the idea, so adding the date resulted confusing.
(By the way, I sent you an email yesterday, don't know if you received it)

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

YES! So glad someone posted the wind tree! I think this can serve as such an awareness builder in urban areas. You might also be interested in coordinating with David who also posted about the wind tree. You guys can figure out how to make these happen :).

https://openideo.com/challenge/renewable-energy/ideas/ugly-is-not-sustainable

I would love to see a pilot of a wind wall that could charge electronics, lights etc. A wall covered in hundreds of tiny microturbines for example. It would serve as an artistic statement piece but also be functional! Something like these.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/c8/7a/06/c87a0601a560738c1ce7d86eb984d459.jpg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xePfxytlnxA

Also here is a list of 8 small DIYs for turbines.

http://theselfsufficientliving.com/free-diy-or-homemade-wind-turbine-plans-and-designs/

I built big turbines and some micro turbines with my students and they had a ball with the micro turbines. They are pretty cheap to make too so I look forward to seeing your pilot! Perhaps you could do a wind wall that lights up tiny LED lights? You could see if people want to interact with the wind wall/learn more.

Cannot wait to see your pilot.

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hey Natalie, thanks for all your links and comments!
I like your prototype ideas :)
These trees could really work at your eco-park! what do you think?

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

I definitely think so too (once the cost is lowered.) It would definitely be a part of my dream park :). I am toying with the idea of doing workshops with kids though and I think maybe we could create some sort of wind wall on the cheap if we do micro wind turbines out of recyclables.

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Welcome to the team Natalie! let's include the eco-park best ideas here too :)

Photo of Natalie Lake
Team

Hi Ramiro,

Thank you for the add. Looking forward to collaborating! I just sent you an email to your address you posted on my page :)

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congratulations on making it to the Renewable Energy Challenge Refinement list, Ramiro! We like that this idea focuses on wind, as most community and shared renewables projects are solar. We also can’t wait to see the community tie-in built out and focused. There’s a lot of potential with the beauty, simplicity, and sustainability of this idea.

Looking ahead to the next 12 days of Refinement our team – along with the 11th Hour Project and the advisory panel – has a few questions that may help move your idea forward. We’re curious which community you think a project like this is best suited for. What is a barrier to adopting renewable energy in that community and how might the Giving Tree address it? We’re also wondering if this initiative could be paired with any of the sustainable housing projects that also moved into refinement. On that note, we’re curious what other partnerships might exist to help move this idea forward in new communities. It would also be awesome to reach out to a few experts and receive feedback on your idea in the next week.

We can’t wait to see this idea continue to develop. Check out more tips for Refinement on our blog: http://bit.ly/oi-refine and http://ideo.pn/rr-refinetips

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Awesome!!! We will consider your questions and suggestions to make this project better!
Thanks!!

Photo of Joan Cabré Puig
Team

What an excellent idea!

I don't know how much that would represent in terms of energy consumption, but it would be awesome to host small music concerts regularly using only stored energy, which would allow to set up a stage and plug in everything, from the amplifiers to the lighting, without the need of conventional generators. Those concerts could even be publicized as "sustainable/green concerts" in social media.

Regarding general usage of the trees, depending on how demanded they are, public intervention might be required to ensure usage by every community/group of individuals and avoid availability conflicts.

Photo of Ramiro Sanchez Caballero
Team

Hi Joan, thanks for your comment!
The developers say this can extend to breezes blowing as slowly as two meters per second, making the turbine useful across more than 280 days of the year. Its power output is calculated at 3.1 kW. Maybe with several trees working together it can power the concert!