INTERNET AND ELECTRICITY ARE THE AIR AND WATER of the 21st century, according to Miloš Milisavljević.
It’s a bit hyperbolic, but his point is clear: The modern world couldn’t function without these resources. “I see them as the most important things for urban man today,” he says.
Milisavljević wants to bring these vital resources to as many people as possible. So he created the Serbian company Strawberry Energy. Its “Strawberry Tree” is the world’s first public solar-powered charging station for all the electronic devices so many people carry today. The metal structure, which comes in a couple of different shapes and sizes, is topped with solar panels. Instead of branches, it has cables for charging phones and tablets, WiFi, shaded seating and public lighting. Best of all, it’s free to use.
Milisavljević, an electrical engineer by training, says the charging stations are as much about enhancing public spaces as they are about providing power. So far, 12 have been installed in plazas and parks in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina; more than 300,000 people have plugged in since 2010. Each “tree” costs between €25,000 and €35,000 (about $34,000 to $48,000 U. S.), and most are funded with corporate sponsorships.
“Strawberries are the first fruit to come in the spring. In that sense, they are kind of the pioneers of summer, of better times, of sunny times,” Milisavljević says. “We want to be this kind of pioneer for solar energy.”
A dozen solar “Strawberry tree” device charging stations have been installed in plazas and parks in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Strawberry Energy)
Already, there are three “Strawberry Trees” in Belgrade. The company will install ten more in the next few years. Milisavljević is also in talks with Belgium, as well as Moscow, Johannesburg, and other cities. He’s also hoping to get into the U. S. market (a firm in California is helping open those doors).
In the near future, Milisavljević plans to unveil a sleeker, cheaper “Strawberry Tree,” which would make them easier to distribute and install. His company is also developing new products, including a smaller, portable “tree” that could be deployed for events and a suitcase-sized solar charger, intended for off-grid rural areas.
Milisavljević sees these solar charging stations as a sort of “gateway drug” that will get people addicted to the potential of renewable energy sources.
“We want to educate people about green technology and sustainable development, to show them that even as ordinary people they can enjoy huge benefits from these green technologies,” Milisavljević says. “It’s not some kind of science fiction that only NASA uses at space stations. These are technologies that we can use in our everyday lives.”
This story is part of a series of Citiscope profiles on urban innovators from Montréal to New Delhi who are improving lives, designs and fortunes in their cities. All are speaking at the New Cities Foundation’s 2014 New Cities Summit in Dallas from June 17-19, attended by urban leaders from around the world. Read the profiles here. And see Miloš’s presentation in the video below.