When most people think of solar panels, they think of large, rectangular mirrored pieces often oddly positioned in a yard, or garden or mounted on a roof. But Samuel Cochran thought differently. The 28-year-old Pratt graduate founded, with his sister Teresita Cochran and architect Benjamin Wheeler, a company called SMIT (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology) in 2007. The mandate was to “develop and bring to market clean energy products that identify and create power in ways traditional solar and wind solutions can’t,” and their first product is Solar Ivy.
Simply put, they’re solar panels that are designed to mimic the look of ivy leaves and can be installed to look like said leaves are “climbing” up a building. The idea came to Cochran while a student at Pratt, “I was looking at the solar industry and the different technology that was available, or soon to be available. Ivy is a plant that integrates with our buildings and our structures—it grows to find light and resources so it can prosper. The concept was how can we as human beings learn from that plant and its relationship to our built environment and create an object that can provide for us in a similar way that this plant can provide for itself.”
(Above) Solar Ivy Panels Up Close
Solar Ivy was developed as a completely modular, customizable product. It is mounted on recyclable stainless steel mesh that can span almost any building and, says Cochran, “We can also orient each leaf to face the sun on any building’s surface, so you can have a variety of functionalities, and solar ivy also shades buildings so you have efficiency gains there, as well.”
The thin-film photovoltaics are completely recyclable and have no toxic materials; the color options are limitless as are the configurations. As for the price, Cochran admits to being more expensive. “We’re trying to be a designed, luxury type of solar,” he explained. “We’re not innovating at the solar panel level, but we are trying to streamline the product and software that allows us to efficiently develop a system for a client, specific to their building. No two buildings are the same. But what is standardized is that they’re on planet Earth, and we know the sun will come up in a standardized pattern around that.” solarivy.com