Making Energy Infrastructure Beautiful With Sculptural Solar Chargers

Totem Power wants to bring charging from the garage to the street, to illuminate energy to everyone.

Most energy infrastructure is hidden–and not particularly beautiful. A new startup called Totem Power hopes to change that, with solar charging stations that are meant to be seen on the street.


“Right now, all of this infrastructure is relegated to back of the building– you know to non-glorious places like next to the dumpster,” says Brian Lakamp, CEO and founder of Totem Power. “By really rethinking what the product is and putting a true design mentality to it you can create something that fundamentally changes the equation for people.”

On top of the flower-shaped structure, a five-kilowatt solar array feeds power to an oversized battery. The platform includes WiFi and 4G communications, electric vehicle charging, and smart lighting–all available even in a disaster, since the design can store solar power. It’s grid-connected, and can also feed extra power back to nearby buildings.

Because it’s meant to be in public view, the company thinks it help make people more aware of energy infrastructure and more energy literate. And because the small towers can sit anywhere, they can be used to quickly build a network of renewable power.

“We’re looking at providing infrastructure that looks at the battery as a piece of a much larger solution…something that can enable the smart city and serve the smart city on a highly distributed basis,” says Lakamp.

The small towers can’t power buildings on their own, but a company with solar on its rooftop might put one in the parking lot to add battery storage to its facility. Then it can double as a streetlight, a place for employees to charge their electric cars, and a resilience center in the case of a hurricane or earthquake.

The design was inspired, in part, by the story of a 13-year-old boy who proposed tree-like solar panels, based on the Fibonacci sequence, in 2011. That concept didn’t work–but Lakamp recognized the need for different forms in infrastructure design.


“What that led me to was an observation that the energy infrastructure that we currently rely on–save for utility poles that have been around for 50 years and are underwhelming– really hasn’t been designed to live in public places and do things differently,” he says.

He envisions cities covered in Totem’s poles. “As you think forward to the way that transportation in cities, communication, autonomous services and a whole host of smart city, Internet of Thing- type services–all this really becomes an exciting platform for growth and evolution of cities,” he says.

The product will come to market in the summer of 2017.


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.