Smartflower solar is a stunning and unique sun-tracking sculpture

Smartflower Sun-tracking Solar Sculpture
Smartflower solar panels unfurl in the morning and track the sun across the sky for optimal energy production. Images courtesy Smartflower

In the rapidly evolving world of solar energy, Smartflower stands out as a unique and visually appealing option. Unlike traditional rectangular solar panels, Smartflower offers a novel approach to solar energy collection, combining functionality with aesthetics. This innovative product has garnered attention primarily for its design and technology, but it comes with a significant price tag, making it less accessible for the average homeowner. Here, we delve into what makes Smartflower unique, its technical specifications, applications, and whether it is a viable option for solar energy consumers.

What is Smartflower solar?

Smartflower is not your typical solar panel. It is a solar energy system designed to resemble a giant flower, with “petals” made of solar modules that open at sunrise and close at sunset. This design is inspired by biomimicry, mimicking the way a sunflower follows the sun across the sky. Invented in Vienna in 2014, Smartflower was later acquired and moved to Boston by James Gordon, who saw its potential in the energy market.

Key features of Smartflower

Design and aesthetics

The most striking feature of Smartflower is its design. Standing about 16 feet tall with 12 solar petals, it adds a touch of industrial art to any installation site. Its aesthetic appeal makes it popular among commercial entities and institutions looking to showcase their commitment to sustainability in a visually striking manner.

Dual-axis tracking

One of Smartflower’s significant technological advancements is its dual-axis tracking system. Unlike traditional fixed solar panels, Smartflower’s petals move throughout the day to follow the sun’s path, optimizing energy absorption. This feature allows it to generate up to 40% more energy than conventional fixed solar panels, according to Gordon.

Smartflower Sun-tracking Solar Sculpture Petals Closed
Smartflower closes its petals at sunset or during bad weather to protect its solar panels.

Efficiency and performance

Smartflower can produce up to 6,500 kilowatt-hours per year, making it a powerful solar energy solution. The system includes self-cleaning brushes that remove dirt and debris from the panels twice daily, enhancing efficiency. Additionally, the panels’ low height above ground helps with natural cooling and reduces heat accumulation compared to rooftop installations.

Easy installation

Despite its complexity, Smartflower is designed to be as close to plug-and-play as possible for a major solar installation. Delivered fully assembled, it requires minimal setup compared to traditional solar panel systems. The installation process involves securing the structure to the ground, and it can be done in a few hours by trained professionals or even a homeowner’s preferred electrician with remote training provided by Smartflower.

Smartflower Sun-tracking Solar Sculpture Buckley Elementary School
Buckley Elementary School in Manchester, Connecticut, is hard to miss as the state’s first net-zero public school, marked by the distinctive Smartflower at its entrance.

Smartflower products and options

Smartflower offers two primary products:

  1. Smartflower (Base Model): This includes the self-cleaning, sun-tracking energy station.
  2. Smartflower Plus: This model adds an 11-kilowatt lithium battery, allowing for grid-tied or off-grid configurations. This version can store excess energy, making it ideal for remote locations or areas prone to power outages.

Additionally, an electric vehicle (EV) charging option is available, integrating a charging kiosk with the solar system.

Smartflower equipment and warranties

Solar panels

Smartflower’s custom-manufactured solar panels are competitive with the best in the market in terms of efficiency. The self-cleaning mechanism keeps the panels free from dirt, pollen, and bird droppings, maintaining optimal performance.

Inverters

The system uses inverters from Fronius or Sunny Boy, which have an efficiency rating of 96.5%, among the highest in the industry. The inverter is housed within the pedestal of the Smartflower, along with optional batteries.

Warranties

Smartflower offers a 25-year performance warranty on its solar panels, aligning with industry standards. The inverter comes with a 10-year warranty, and the overall system has a two-year warranty. While the system warranty is shorter than typical solar installations, it covers basic maintenance like lubrication every year or two.

Smartflower Sun-tracking Solar Sculpture Paris
A Smartflower stands unfurled in Paris, showcasing its innovative solar technology in the heart of the city.

Applications and use cases

Smartflower is versatile, catering to both commercial and residential clients. It is particularly popular among businesses and institutions looking to make a bold statement about their sustainability efforts. Examples include installations at corporate campuses and remote locations like a whale-watching center in Quebec.

For residential users, Smartflower offers an aesthetically pleasing alternative to rooftop solar panels, with the added benefit of higher efficiency due to its dual-axis tracking. However, the high cost makes it more suitable for homeowners who prioritize design and innovation over budget constraints.

Costs and pricing

The cost of a Smartflower system is significantly higher than traditional solar panels. The base model Smartflower is priced at $39,950, while the Smartflower Plus, which includes the 11-kilowatt lithium battery, costs $65,500. These prices exclude installation and shipping costs, which can range from $3,000 to $7,000 depending on the complexity of the setup.

Smartflower Sun-tracking Solar Sculpture OMIC R&D
Three Smartflowers stand tall at the entrance of the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center (OMIC R&D).

When compared to conventional solar systems, which typically cost between $3 and $4 per watt, Smartflower’s price per watt is substantially higher, even after accounting for the 40% increase in energy production from its tracking technology. This makes it an option for those who are willing to pay a premium for its unique design and advanced features.

Conclusion

Smartflower offers a unique and innovative approach to solar energy, combining high efficiency with striking design. Its dual-axis tracking system and self-cleaning panels make it a powerful and low-maintenance option for solar energy generation. However, its high cost limits its accessibility to a niche market of commercial clients and affluent homeowners who value its aesthetic and technological advancements.

For those looking to maximize energy savings on a budget, traditional solar panels remain the more cost-effective option. However, for those who can afford it and appreciate its design, Smartflower presents an attractive and efficient alternative in the solar energy market.

Source: Smartflower