An Idea Emerges

When I left iHeart, I transitioned from a 6a-10p job, into a period of newfound time. With that time, I started tackling to-do’s on the homefront that had long stood on the punch list. Among them, adding solar panels to our roof… Our air conditioning bills are brutal in the summer. For years, I had heard the recurring, nagging voice in my inner monologue saying “Self, do something about that.”

I looked into solar panels.

Turns out that our roof is decent, but not optimal, for solar. We have a section of southward-facing roof (the best direction for solar panels), but a good portion of it sits under tree cover that blocks sunlight.

Plus, I really don’t want to lease infrastructure on my roof that is owned by someone else. (That’s the common model from folks like SolarCity.) I’m not interested in having to deal with a 3rd party when I want to remodel or need to repair a leak.

I had also heard the firefighters dislike solar on roofs. Electricity. Fire. Water. Seems obvious when stated aloud… Not a great combo. When fire is consuming a house, you just don’t want to give firefighters “one more thing” to worry about.

I decided against solar panels on our roof.

I then quickly dismissed the notion of putting them in my yard. Converting a section of property into the “modern industrial” look just wasn’t my next play.

While I was mulling other options like community solar, I came across a story about Aidan Dwyer, a remarkable 13 year-old boy.

In 2011, Aidan was on a nature hike, asked himself questions about the arrangement of tree branches, and started “figgrin” when he got home. Well beyond an average 13 year-old (and certainly well beyond where I was at 13), Aidan concluded that branches were arrayed in variations of the Fibonacci sequence, and that trees evolved over millennia into this branching to optimize conversion of solar energy into the life force of the tree.

I have no idea about the science behind the conclusion, but I remain impressed with Aidan. The idea that trees represent a pinnacle of nature’s evolution to optimize collection of solar energy struck me, as many great ideas do, as blindingly obvious once presented.

That started me thinking.

I asked myself, “Self, why aren’t solar installations, like trees, highly distributed throughout communities, and visible everywhere?”

The answer in a nutshell… Visually, solar sucks. While trees are organic, beautiful and inspiring, solar is just plain ugly. In fact, the primary business models around solar (rooftop residential, utility scale desert installations) have been about finding places to hide solar and then build a financing model around it.

A challenge and and idea presented itself. Is it possible to design solar installations for broad deployment, throughout the fabric of communities like trees, by pairing cutting edge technology with iconic, beautiful design?

I like challenges, particularly where design is involved, so I headed down the road to answer that question.

Brian Lakamp