13 Great Solar Concepts Inspired by Plants

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Solar cells are a form of biomimicry of plants in that they convert sunlight into energy. The plant world offers up a vast array of shapes, sizes, colors, and styles from which designers can create their cool, crazy and creatively mimicked solar powered concepts. Above is one that makes the link to its inspiration as apparent as possible. The Power Flower by Art Energy Design is a 12 foot sculpture that generates energy from both wind power from the petals and solar cells within the leaves. Check out some of the other amazing solar power creations inspired by their flora counterparts. Photo via Art Energy Design

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Similar to the Power Flower, Toyota devised its own giant solar powered flowers and let them loose in major cities across the US. They're intended to be a place for people to sit, plug in their laptops to the renewable energy source, access the free wifi and enjoy the day. Of course they're also meant to promote the Prius at the same time...but that works for us. Photo via Toyota

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Also like the Power Flower only far more futuristic is Philips Light Blossom concept. This design is for solar and wind powered street lights, with the petals opening up to collect sunlight during the day, or shifting vertically to collect energy from wind when the sun isn't around. Lights along the stem would illuminate the street. Very cool idea, but also not close to being a reality. Photo via JimOnLight

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Another idea for solar street lighting that is a touch more realistic and a tough less obvious is the Invisible Streetlight. These are branches that would attach to and blend in with tree branches along walk ways in parks and city sidewalks. They'd collect energy throughout the day, and emit light at night. While there are some obvious issues with how it would be able to collect enough sunlight while sitting under tree leaves all day, it's still a lovely design idea. Photo via Jongoh Lee

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One of the solar powered streetlights that really caught our attention are the trees created by Ross Lovegrove. They're big bursts of solar powered light mimicking trees, and have already hit the streets of Vienna where they've proven the idea of solar powered tree streetlighting is functional as well as fantastic. Photo via

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But before Lovegrove came the solar tree streetlights of Australia. They're known as the Solar Mallee Trees because they bear a visual association to their tough eucalyptus namesake. Installed in September 2005, each tree produces an average of 864 kWh each year, uses only 125 kWh of energy, and puts the excess energy generated right into to the power grid. Photo via Deesblog

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Moving away from branches and focusing on the leaves, here is a design for solar ivy by Samuel & Teresita Cochran. Each leaf is a solar cell and they can cover the walls of homes and buildings in a way that mimics ivy. If a cell becomes damaged it is easier, and less expensive, to replace just that cell, like shedding leaves. Photo by SMIT

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Not everything has to be enormous and sit outside your house. There are a lot of concepts inspired by the humble houseplant. For example, the Solar Plant. You fully expose it to sunlight during the day, and at night, it glows like a firefly. Very cute. Photo via Solar Plant

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An artificial house plant by Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), Mitsubishi Corp. and Tokki Corp. would look to replace a regular house plant with one that could charge your gadgets. The leaves are flexible solar cells made to look more like real leaves than solar cells. Photo via Tech On

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You can build your own bonsai tree with branches sporting various solar panels. The panels charge up a battery that you can connect your gadgets to. The battery, gadgets, and wires can all be stored inside the base, er, pot. It will lend a very sci-fi look to any home, and if you get bored with the look, just rearrange the branches. Photo via Toys and Gadgets

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Less literal but just as useful is the Sunny Flower. This solar gadget charger has petals that unfold to collect sunlight. The concept is that it could stick to windows to collect sun, and then fold up for easy storage when not in use. Photo via Designboom

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Heading back outside, we hit some solar concepts that mimic not only trees, but an entire forest. Designer Neville Mars has dreamed up a forest of solar trees that will keep our electric cars cool, and charged up. Taking it one step closer to plants, the solar panels would actually follow the light throughout the day, making sure there is always maximum shade and maximum energy generation. Photo via Blurb.tv

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The solar forest sounds cool, but still off in the distant future. But the idea of solar trees in parking lots does indeed exist - University of California, San Diego is already generating power with them. These are parking lot trees that do double duty, though it would be great to see them co-existing with their natural cohorts. After all, no solar tree can quite replace the real thing. Photo via Envision Solar