The Brooklyn–based start-up SMIT (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology) was formed in 2005 by the brother and sister team of Samuel and Teresita Cochran. Their goal: to invent a hybrid new approach to solar and wind power. Their Solar Ivy—flexible photovoltaic 'leaves' made of sheets of recyclable polyethylene—is a modular, ivy-like system that can be used on the sides of buildings, to capture the sunlight much like plants do. As the 'ivy' flutters and shifts in the wind, it converts solar energy into electricity.
Solar Ivy is currently in production, and will be available for purchase starting in mid-October. Meanwhile, the Cochrans, along with architectural designer Benjamin Wheeler Howes, are currently developing the next generation of the technology, which they call GROW. It will look and act like Solar Ivy, except that as it flutters in the wind, it will transform that kinetic energy into electricity, making each leaf that much more potent and powerful.
What inspired solar ivy, originally?
I grew up in St. Louis with a window that looked out over a wall of ivy. It found its way there because it could get a good footing on the old brick buildings, and it received direct sun. The ivy would move slightly, like prairie grass, showing waves of wind moving across a building. This vision from childhood stayed with me till I was trained as an Industrial Designer at Pratt Institute; then I was able to see the connections and opportunities between that vision of a plant and how we apply photovoltaic panels to our homes. From this, Solar Ivy and GROW products were born.
What's cool about this invention, compared to regular solar panels?
Solar Ivy—a biomimetic form of ivy—is an extremely versatile system of modular components, which allows solar to go places that were previously inaccessible. It's the first of many products we're developing that look toward the future of what a solar system on a home can be, and really improve the experience of how we live and interact with it. We're also working on a hybrid wind-and-solar panel that resembles ivy, which we're calling GROW. Both GROW and Solar Ivy have modular elements, which keeps manufacturing costs down, and allows for the designs to adapt to advances in solar technology.
Is there a precedent for this concept of combining solar and wind energy?
In very few cases; most are wind turbines next to solar arrays. None are as closely integrated as GROW.
We have many sales in the works for our first production run of Solar Ivy, which will be available by mid-October. In the near future we will be setting up a test location at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to experiment with the next versions of Solar Ivy, and some new products aimed at stadiums and lighting-heavy applications like Times Square and Las Vegas.
What's your ultimate vision for GROW, or Solar Ivy?
I see our products covering and powering skyscrapers, stadiums, and homes all over the world.