The Role of Design in Our Renewable Energy Future

Updated: 6 days ago

Brian Graff, CEO & Co-Founder

Solar Forma Design

In the spirit of disclosure, I must share upfront that I am not a designer. I can’t draw, paint, or even sketch. I don’t possess a mastery for determining color palettes or the subtleties of lighting. I was even politely but firmly directed away from sculpting as an artistic pursuit when my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Frasier, looked at the creation that resulted from my effort to make a rabbit from modeling clay. I think the word she used was “tragic”.

That said, I do believe I know good design when I see it. I have an appreciation for the

vision and effort that is required to bring a design, a mere idea, to physical life. I am deeply moved by architecture, sculpture, paintings, tapestries, interactive art forms and other talent and abstract thought-driven expressions. These expressions are inspired forms, enhancing space, place, and products. When form meets function in an inspired way, it is truly a beautiful thing.

Don Norman, a design professor at The University of California, San Diego and author of The Design of Everyday Things states:

“It is not enough that we build products that function, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and yes, beauty to people’s lives.”

In contrast to Professor Norman’s take, the development of renewable energy technologies has been driven by an engineering process that is focused on finding a solution to a problem. The problem-solving process includes steps such as determining objectives and constraints, testing and evaluating, refinement, prototyping, further testing, and refinement again. With enough grit and repetition, we create a solution. This linear process allows applied science, mathematics, and engineering sciences to meet the requirements of a defined objective. This iterative process is pursued and repeated as improvements are sought and products are redesigned to meet an ever-higher degree of performance and efficiency in solving human problems and addressing human needs.

I must also disclose that I am not a scientist or engineer. BUT I can deliver credit where credit is due. The engineering teams, technicians and manufacturers that have been involved in the advancement of solar energy have done a remarkable job. Thanks to their innovation and strong global demand, the price of solar energy has dropped nearly 80% over the last decade, driven by improved solar cell efficiency and lower manufacturing costs. As a result, the International Energy Agency's (IEA) reports that solar power is now the lowest cost source of electricity in history, leading us to a carbon-free future.

This is inarguably great news – and it brings us hope in a time of climactic extremes and severe change. However, I believe that while energy and manufacturing engineers worked to deliver this technology for humankind – they may have inadvertently missed the “humans” in the process.

This is where I have something to add. My background is in human behavior. I like people

and I like figuring out how they tick. Now is the time for human behaviorists to contribute to the renewable energy space. Standard Photo-Voltaic (PV) solar arrays are treated as infrastructure. They’re utilitarian and as a result tend to be aesthetically unappealing in high visibility spaces. Standard ground-based arrays either take up vast swaths of space or are kept out of reach with chain-link fences and barriers. Rooftop arrays present a solution, but a shocking 80% of Americans can’t access rooftop solar due to an unsuitable roof strength, an unsuitable location, and or their status as a renter. In each example of conventional solar, this miraculous source of energy is inaccessible, utilitarian, and kept out of sight. It’s time for an evolution in solar energy.

I founded Solar Forma Design because we believe in renewable energy and that solar can be more than just infrastructure.

Solar Forma Design is a place-conscious renewable energy product developer and manufacturer based out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Very early we adopted the tenets of Art, Heart, and Data to guide our company. We aim to reflect the eye of an artist, the heart of an environmentalist, and the data driven metrics that are required by energy managers and CFOs.

As we worked to define our company’s identity in this space, we were fortunate to come across the designs of the renowned London-based product designer, Samuel Wilkinson. Five years earlier, Samuel had developed a solar product concept based on bio-mimicry, the design and production of structures and systems that are modeled on the entities and processes found in nature. Where Samuel excels in design, our team excels in fabrication and engineering. A licensing and collaboration agreement was established between us and we set about bringing the vision to life. From this collaboration, we’ve been able to facilitate a form of solar capture that cultivates public well-being and place-making through inspired design: redefining the relationship between renewable energy and public spaces.

Leading our product list is the E-Cacia Solar Tree. The E-Cacia is modeled after the Acacia trees of the southern and eastern African savanna. The Acacias have wide, flat canopies evolved to capture the maximum amount of sunlight with the smallest of ground footprints. With over 1,300 species of Acacia worldwide, these arboreal wonders are adaptive and resilient in their provision of shade, shelter, and gathering space to both humans and wildlife alike. This design genius has made the E-Cacia our flagship product. We have installed two of them outside of our offices and are scheduled to install two more in April at two city park locations in our hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

We’ve also designed the first Wave Solar Carport + Clean EV Charging, modeled after the surface of water. The Wave is our workhorse, with 25kW of generative capacity and Clean EV charging, assuring no community is left behind in our Nation’s electrification.

Our company is on a journey. We see ourselves as pathfinders and thought leaders creating inspired product solutions that integrate into both built and natural environments, attracting new customers, and supporting a cleaner and greener energy future.

By allowing architects, urban planners and others who are charged with place-making to incorporate solar as an integral element of their scenescapes, we hope to advance the proliferation of solar into the new energy future. Our goal is to elevate solar’s acceptance through artful designs that enrich public spaces and impress upon people how solar can replace fossil fuels and support the activities that define our lives.

Thank you for visiting. Thank you for reading.

Join us, as we redefine solar. For good.

Brian Graff

CEO & Co-Founder

Solar Forma Design

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