Skip to content
Smartflower solar array. What was the decision behind putting a SmartFlower…

Smartflower solar array. What was the decision behind putting a SmartFlower…

    smartflower, solar, array, putting

    Stylish Solar: How Companies are Making Panels Look Pleasant

    The cost of solar energy is declining, and solar panels and batteries are becoming more efficient. In 2017, a number of aesthetically pleasing, technologically fascinating, and economically efficient installations have hit the market. While there are plenty more than what we’re addressing here, we’ll be taking a look at ways companies are enticing new customers to make sustainable solar energy a part of their lives.

    Picture, if you will, oh reader, a scene from an ancient past when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The all-withering sun cast its pitiless eye upon the creatures that lived here, killing up to 96 percent of the planet’s life in a single fluctuation of temperature. The mighty Triceratops knew the power of the sun, as did the winged Pterodactyl that circled above.

    As the ravages of time (and fiery meteoric impacts) killed the gigantic reptiles, driving their bones beneath the earth, evolution maintained its long trek to the modern, mammalian world we see today. The bodies of these mighty denizens of Earth’s past now fuel our cars and drive our industry, but we are learning the same lesson Tyrannosaurus did, oh so long ago: endless, mindless consumption will lead only to death.

    Whether we sink in primordial ooze, choke upon artificial gases and pollutants, or boil away beneath atmospheric heat, the result will be the same. Tyrannosaurus knew only how to eat the weak, and could not set up a worldwide system of sustainability. This is where we, the humans, have the advantage.

    We must use the almighty sun, not let it cook us alive. We’ve found ways to use the gigantic, flaming, ball in the sky that not only grant us sustainable energy, but look good in the backyard and make a great barbecue talking point. Two devices — the Smartflower and Tesla’s Solar Roof — are in the spotlight for sustainable and stylish home improvement.

    Why Solar?

    Solar energy continues to grow worldwide, driven by rapidly declining prices. Although solar today only accounts for about 1 percent of our total energy output, it represents 39 percent of our energy capacity growth last year — more than any other energy type. and more people are getting solar panels installed on their homes and producing their own energy. There’s no denying the appeal; once you pay the initial cost of installation, you’re generating free energy for yourself for the lifetime of your solar array. It can slash your energy bills, and even make you money if you generate more energy than you need — not to mention helping the environment as you do.

    Drawbacks still exist that are preventing solar energy from being more commonplace. First, the upfront costs of putting solar panels on your house are substantial enough most people are turned off by the start-up investment. Green energy website EnergySage quotes the average cost of private home solar panels in the United States to be 16,800 before the 30 percent tax credit. After the credit, it would cost between 10,045 and 13,475, depending on where you live and what credits are available to you.

    Also, many people don’t like they way the typical rooftop or wall-mounted solar array looks as they can stand out and clash with the rest of the roof. They’re also very dependent on location. Living in locations that receive more sunshine will result in a greater return on your investment, while cloudier locales make the purchase harder to justify.

    Despite the negatives, solar continues to move forward on the back of technological innovation. Companies are finding ways to make their panels more efficient, more cost-effective, and easier on the eyes.

    Behold, the Flower of Power

    Imagine stopping by a friend’s house to hang out on a beautiful summer day. You’re sitting on the back patio, living the lawn chair dream, when something catches your eye — a glint of metal in the afternoon sun. Before you know what you’re seeing, an enormous metal flower rises up from the ground. As you fall off your chair in shock, you realize it’s the Smartflower.

    The product of an attempt to make solar power attractive and simple, the Smartflower is an all-in-one system. True to its name, it consists of a central cabinet (containing the inverter and batteries for energy storage) and several petal-shaped solar panels that fan out during active hours, then fold together and down to the ground at night.

    Advertised as an all-in-one system with easy installation, the Smartflower can be set up on your property in a single day. It makes a great alternative to a traditional array if your roof isn’t an option, in case you rent and can’t modify the structure you live in, or simply don’t like the aesthetics of panels. Plus, if you need to move, you can take it with you. There are also models available for businesses and government application too.

    Possibly the largest advantage and selling point of the Smartflower is all-day efficiency. While a traditional rooftop setup will experience a spike in production for a short period when the sun is at an optimal angle, then a drop off as the sun moves away, the Smartflower benefits from a steady, consistent rate of production from sunup to sundown by pivoting to follow the sun’s path. This equates to about a 40 percent increase in power output as opposed to traditional “static” solar panel arrays. They’re also self-cooled, which adds even more efficiency when compared to rooftop arrays that experience less airflow.

    Of course, there are still some hurdles, most involving the still-high price point of the Smartflower. Despite its output, an analysis of the cost-to-output ratio shows that traditional arrays are still more cost-efficient (traditional set-ups cost about 9 cents per kWh, whereas the Smartflower is about 13 cents per kWh). If you’re looking purely to become energy independent and save money with solar energy, you’re still going to be better off putting panels on your roof. But, if you’re enthusiastic about the design, have the cash to spend, and want to wow Bob from the office with a giant, expanding energy flower, you could do a lot worse.

    It’s also important to note too, however, that the Smartflower is still new in comparison to a traditional array. As solar technology continues to innovate and become cheaper, this dual-axis model that mimics plant-life might drive the standard solar panel to extinction. Though they’re not the only ones attempting this.

    What does the addition of the SmartFlower mean for campus?

    As a display that is part-art installation, part-solar energy technology and part-educational tool, the SmartFlower reduces Elon University’s carbon footprint by producing renewable energy for Founders Hall and Innovation Hall.

    The SmartFlower is designed to mimic how sunflowers naturally absorb solar energy by moving with the sun. The device uses its internal programming and location data to track the sun from east to west and north and south to maximize renewable energy production. The SmartFlower innovative design will allow it to produce 40% more energy than a similarly sized fixed solar panel.

    What is the purpose of the flower?

    The SmartFlower is a visible demonstration of sustainability, creativity and engineering at work. It will generate between 4,000 and 6,000 kilowatts hours of renewable energy annually and will help supply clean energy to Founders Hall and Innovation Hall.

    As a display of technology made possible by investment and advancement of STEM-related education, the SmartFlower is the perfect centerpiece to anchor the plaza outside of Founders Hall and Innovation Hall. The hope is that its presence will inspire Elon’s students to go out to change the world with their ideas.

    smartflower, solar, array, putting

    How will the energy harvested by the flower be used to assist facilities on campus?

    The SmartFlower will provide clean, renewable energy that will supplant a portion of the fossil fuel-generated electrical energy required to power lighting, equipment and building systems within Founders Hall and Innovation Hall.

    How unique is the SmartFlower on college campuses?

    By installing a SmartFlower on campus, Elon University has joined a distinct and global group of colleges and universities that have committed to renewable energy production on campus, while encouraging and empowering students to learn about transforming the world with innovative technology.

    When students, faculty, staff and other members of the community walk by the SmartFlower, they will see a tangible example of our campus investment in STEM. Our SmartFlower will serve as a symbol for the university’s commitment to sustainability while demonstrating our role as a leader in education and innovation. The SmartFlower will be a powerful showpiece because it will spark interest and conversation about renewable energy and the importance of STEM-related education in our future.

    Enter the SmartFlower™

    Motivated by the sunflower that follows the sun throughout the day, the solar flower is an integrated ground-mounted array of sun-tracking solar panels that follow the sun while being capable of preforming other highly sophisticated functions.

    The first movers of solar flowers, the Austrian company, SmartFlower™ was founded in 2010. In 2013, the team presented the concept at the Intersolar in Munich. In late 2017, SmartFlower began bankruptcy proceedings in Germany. However, an independent US subsidiary continues to operate from Boston offering the Smartflower in the United States.

    Did the Titanic Solar flower Sink? Or Not?

    In 2015, the media was awash with news that James Cameron, the director of the movies, Titanic and Avatar, and an alternative energy enthusiast, was moving into the manufacture of solar flowers. As at the time of writing, there is nothing on the Internet about Cameron’s project beside the announcement and the news that he installed one of his solar flowers on the campus of his wife’s school. It is safe to assume that the ship sunk soon after leaving the harbour.

    The SmartFlower solar flower is a fully autonomous system. In the morning, the 12 petals holding the solar cells unfold themselves towards the sun and, with the help of a GPS-controlled, double-axis system, follow it during the day. In this way, they ensure maximum output. At dusk, when there is no sunlight, they close.

    About 15.5ft when open, the system produces approximately 2.5kW of electricity during peak sunlight conditions. This is enough output for an three-to-four average household.

    Smart Features

    When the petals close at the end of the day, they clean themselves with brushes added to the back of each panel. This sets the SmartFlower apart from other ground-mounted and sun-tracking solar panel systems. This feature is covered by a five-year warranty.

    The SmartFlower is easy to install. It contains all of the hardware and other components within itself so that it can be easily installed and disassembled. SmartFlower says it can take two or three hours to install or uninstalled.

    The system includes rear ventilation to keep the module up to 18°F cooler than it would be otherwise. This helps stabilize the efficiency of the panels as their production reduces above certain temperatures.

    The system also monitors weather conditions and uses the information to decide whether to close its petals for protection.

    Information about the system is logged on an app. With the app, the system can be controlled.

    Smartflower: The Ultimate in Solar Power

    Smartflower partners with Dutch alternative energy systems manufacturer, Victron Energy. The system incorporates a Victron inverter. a Victron charge controller and Victron batteries. The Victron brand is a premium brand and is highly regarded.

    Smartflower offers a 25-year warranty for its solar cells and a 10-year warranty for its Victron inverter, both of which are the industry standard.

    smartflower, solar, array, putting

    The Power of the Sunflower

    As the human race takes cues from the natural world and moves towards solar energy as a sustainable, clean option in solving our many problems, it looks like a few humans have taken the process one step further.

    In Austria in 2010, the original concept for SmartFlower was sketched on a napkin. The designers wanted to emphasize two things: aesthetics and efficiency. They knew that having a product that was visually appealing would make them competitive in a market that has previously favored function over form, frequently making sacrifices in the presentation for the sake of solar. Efficiency, however, plays into several facets of SmartFlower and is the defining aspect of the product.

    The flower shaped solar panels “SmartFlower” is space efficient; the structure is an all-in-one solar system, meaning that all the technical aspects of the product are housed in its base. All you need to do is plug in the product, and it’s ready to go. Fewer pieces mean that installation is a fairly painless process, purportedly possible in just a few hours.

    The crowning efficiency achievement, however, and the sunflower tie-in, comes in the function of the product. During daylight hours, the solar panel petals track the sun’s movement in the same way that it’s inspirational yellow flowers do. During the night, the petals simply spiral in on top of each other and fold down to minimize space. If it’s rainy or windy, the solar system is Smart enough to keep its petals hidden to protect itself.

    The oscillating face of the flower allows it to create 40 percent more energy than comparable panels. Stationary panels are, by their nature, unable to soak up the same amount of sun and can’t compete with the SmartFlower. Additionally, every time Smartflower unfurls, tiny brushes clean the surface of each panel, diminishing residue and further increasing efficiency.

    Solar Energy Status Quo

    The advance in solar technology stands to revolutionize the market. Solar energy is in a growth phase. With options already on the market for conventional panel systems, as well as various solar arrays around the world, clean energy is poised to take over a larger market share in energy production.

    At current, solar power accounts for 0.6 percent of US electricity generation. The combination of rapidly dropping and increased consumer demand is setting the stage for a continued increase in the application.

    A day with smartflower all-in-one solar sysem

    Initial investment costs are high for both companies and homeowners, though the price tag is potentially more palatable to the corporate world than the private citizens. However, once homeowners take the plunge, they can see their investment level out in as little as 10 years, depending on a handful of factors. Federal tax credits and incentives from utility companies are making the option even more affordable.

    The Solar Revolution

    Solar energy is seated on the edge of a revolution. As the technology is adopted at a growing rate, the demand drives companies to make the technology more accessible and efficient. Industries are re-imagining staples to run on clean energy, and the private sector is seeing a growing number of options for “going green” at home.


    In 2016, Chile announced its intention to have a solar-powered metro system, the first public transportation system in the world that’s completely powered by the sun. This year, the country unveiled a solar array capable of powering 42 percent of the metro’s energy consumption. While it’s not the sole energy source, it’s a massive step forward in reducing public transportation emissions and energy consumption.

    The verdict is out on solar roads, though. While there’s certainly plenty of research going on from Montana to France to China, no one’s really sure what the future of Smart roads looks like. The potential benefits promise reduced infrastructure cost, automatic snow melting, and the ability to change lane markers as needed for construction or other hazards. However, naysayers cite potential problems with traction, as well as the high cost of building materials. In China, part of the test road was stolen. While solar thieves aren’t likely to be a problem, the effectiveness of a solar collection system that is inherently partially blocked from sunlight is in question — especially with the SmartFlower making stationary panels look inefficient.

    Green Buildings

    As the world becomes increasingly urban, city planners and architects are changing the face of development. By focusing on appropriate sizing and better construction materials, green buildings are optimized to provide the most efficient existence in their environment. Solar panels not only produce energy for the building but feed excess power into the energy grid.

    With the addition of aesthetically pleasing (or at least, more pleasing) solar flowers, the market stands to flourish even more. SmartFlowers may become a common sight in public or private spaces, dotting the landscape with their energy-efficient technology and unique look.

    Unexpected Tech

    Solar panels are popping up in more places than just rooftops and roads, though; the technology is slowly but surely making its way into some unexpected areas.

    Clothing is being modified to include solar fibers woven into the fabric. In the future, it may be possible to put your cell phone in your jacket and have it charge! While that may not be convenient for people who spend their days inside, the application for military, backpackers, and trail guides is astounding.

    Speaking of backpackers, more and more camping equipment is moving towards solar as an energy source. For those who enjoy the outdoors, it only makes sense to take advantage of a natural power source, and it eliminates the need to lug power supplies or backup batteries. Various options are generally affordable due to their small size.

    In much larger solar options, Japan is unveiling the world’s first solar-powered cruise ship. The Ecoship will run on a combination of solar, wind, and natural gas, and the cruise company hopes to see emissions cut by at least 40 percent. If all goes well, Japan hopes to have a fleet of five such ships by 2020.

    smartflower, solar, array, putting

    Looking Forward

    There’s no doubt that solar power is taking the world by storm. As alternative energy solutions become a more pressing concern, companies are innovating and answering the call in spades.

    SmartFlower’s oscillating panel face stands to disrupt the industry moving forward — though not in a bad way. If more solar applications can take advantage of tracking the sun, we can see solar power become more affordable as the technology becomes more efficient. Of course, certain things are stationary by necessity — roads that rotate are understandably impossible.

    However, oscillating solar panels and other cues from nature may be just the answers the industry is looking for. The emphasis on aesthetics and blending into the surroundings as either a focal fixture or a covert energy source sets SmartFlower apart, and hopefully, the luxury of designing solar for our environment will become more widespread as solar power takes root.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *