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Sunflower solar array. Self-Protection

Sunflower solar array. Self-Protection

    Smartflower Cost vs Rooftop Solar Panels

    The Smartflower is billed as a self-contained residential solar installation produced by the Austrian manufacturing company of the same name. Each Smartflower has everything you need to start producing your own electricity: solar panels, inverter, wiring, and all the other bits and pieces. All you need to do is bolt it to the ground and plug it in. A major question, though, is what does the Smartflower cost vs rooftop solar panels? To answer that, let’s take a look at the Smartflower itself.

    Latest Update About the Smartflower Cost and Availability (updated 8/27/2018) Near the end of 2017 the original Austrian manufacturer of the Smartflower filed for bankruptcy but the U.S. division remains independent and will continue manufacturing in the United States. The SmartFlower cost is currently 16,900 for a single unit, but the Smartflower costs 22,000 for a complete system with batteries included. Read on for a price comparison of the Smartflower vs rooftop solar panels and be sure to visit our other post to dig even deeper into current solar panel cost.

    For the last few years, Smartflower has begun pushing into the North American market, mainly targeting residential customers. This got us wondering about what makes the Smartflower so special, how much Smartflower solar cost, and if it’s a better financial investment than purchasing a more conventional roof-mounted solar installation.

    What Is the Smartflower?

    The Smartflower actually looks like a flower, with the solar panels as the “petals”. These petals are moveable and retract at night when the sun has set and then open up again when the sun rises. During high winds, the petals will retract to protect itself and they’re angled to self-clean as well.

    sunflower, solar, array

    There are currently three models available: the basic Smartflower Pop, the Smartflower Pop which includes batteries, and the Smartflower Pop-e which includes an electric vehicle charge port.

    The actual solar installation is quite small, just 2.51 kilowatts. Compare this to the average US residential solar installation’s 5.6 kW and you can see what we mean – it’s less than half the size! However, the Smartflower has an ingenious trick up its sleeve that boosts electricity production way higher than an ordinary solar installation.

    What Makes the Smartflower So Smart?

    In short, the Smartflower is a dual-axis solar installation.

    What exactly does that mean? Well, most residential solar installations are fixed permanently to a homeowner’s roof. The panels are flush with the roof, meaning all the panels are about 4 or 5 inches off the roof, but that 4 or 5 inches are consistent for every panel on the roof. This set-up makes the installation much cheaper and also much easier on the eyes since the solar panels blend in with the roof much better.

    However, fixed panels present a problem. To work best, solar panels need to face the sun directly, at a right angle to the sunlight. Here’s the problem: the sun moves across the sky, but our solar panels are fixed to the roof.

    Solar companies in North America always try to install panels on the south side of the roof – facing the sun – to maximize production, but that only solves a few of the issues. Even if the panels are facing due south, the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west, so the panels are directly facing the sun only for a short time in the noon hours. Also, the sun starts low on the horizon and rises throughout the day, then sets again at a different point on the horizon. So depending on your latitude and your roof’s angle, your panels are producing maximum energy only once a day.

    The Smartflower is different. With a dual-axis tracker, the solar panels can follow the sun on two different axes: both side to side (from east to west) and up and down (as the sun rises higher in the sky and then sets), as well as all the infinite variations in between (it could chart a straight line, a curved line, an extremely curved line – basically whatever it takes to always face the sun exactly). Being able to follow the sun so precisely allows the owner to maximize energy production at all times.

    Beyond increased energy production, the Smartflower manufacturer also touts that the panels operate at a lower temperature than typical residential installations, as wind can blow freely behind the panels, which increases the energy output of the installation (since panels are less efficient at high temperatures).

    All of this adds up the Smartflower’s ability to produce much more electricity than a similarly sized conventional solar installation.

    How Much Does a Smartflower Cost?

    Right now you’re probably thinking “Wow, this thing is awesome! I need one immediately!” Hold your horses, though. Beyond the environmental benefits, solar is a financial investment. It’s a money saving venture and you need to know if the Smartflower makes sense for your bank account.

    In the US, the Smartflower costs 16,900 (or 22,000 with batteries). How much you can save depends on your utility’s electricity cost as well as how strong the sunlight is in your area. To see if the Smartflower is a wise investment, we compared the costs and savings of going solar with this new product against a traditional roof-top solar installation of the same size:

    For the above calculations, we use Smartflower’s own degradation rates (which account for soiling, temperature, inverter inefficiency, energy losses due to wiring, etc.) of 18% for their own product and 11% for rooftop systems. Since the Smartflower is self-cleaning and cooling, its lower efficiency is somewhat intriguing, though the manufacturer doesn’t offer any explanation as to why.

    As you can see, we compare the Smartflower to a conventional rooftop solar installation of the same size in Charlotte, North Carolina. We totaled how much electricity (in kilowatt-hours) each solar installation would produce over 20 years – the typical lifespan of a solar installation. Note that the Smartflower will have produced almost 20% more electricity at the end of 20 years! Wow!

    However, look at the total costs. We’ve already accounted for the 30% federal tax credit (which both systems are eligible for), and you can see the conventional solar installation is almost half the price of the Smartflower. Second wow!

    For even more context, take a look at the cost per kilowatt-hour. In North Carolina, the average utility charges.1128 per kWh. From day 1, the rooftop solar installation is cheaper than the utility, but the Smartflower is about.02 more!

    In areas that are much sunnier or see higher utility rates than North Carolina (southern California, Arizona, or Hawaii for example), the financials for the Smartflower would probably look much sunnier. Historically, utility rates increase about 2.5% annually, so in the end, even a North Carolina homeowner who purchases a Smartflower could potentially save money in the long run.

    However, going solar with a Smartflower seems a little risky when there are more financially responsible options available.

    Benefits and Drawbacks

    As with any new technology or product, the Smartflower has both positive and negative sides:


    First off, the obvious: a dual-axis tracking system allows it to produce much more electricity than a standard roof-mounted solar installation. We’ve already gone through this.

    Secondly, as it isn’t permanently attached to your property, you can take it with you when you move to a new house, avoiding all the hassle of transferring ownership of the solar installation to the new homeowner.

    The manufacturer claims that the Smartflower only takes a few hours to install, compared to a few days for conventional roof-mounted systems. But with the long life of solar systems, does an extra day or two to install really matter?


    As we’ve seen, the biggest drawback is the high cost. For those living in areas with high utility rates and sunny skies, it might be financially viable. However, for most of us, a simple roof-mounted system offers much more bang for your buck, allowing you to save much more money by the end of the installation’s life.

    Also, unlike roof-mounted systems, the Smartflower isn’t very scalable. If a homeowner uses a lot of electricity in their daily life, with a roof-mounted system you can simply add more solar panels until it’s enough. With a Smartflower, however, you’d have to buy multiple units (each with their own inverter and equipment, as each Smartflower is self-contained) to increase your installation size, thereby increasing your total cost more than is necessary.

    The Smartflower also has a lot of moving parts. Yes, the solar panels have a 25-year warranty and the inverter has a 10-year warranty, but everything else has just a 2-year warranty. That doesn’t leave us with a lot of confidence in all those motors and wiring that open and close the “petals” every day and are constantly out in the elements.

    Lastly, the looks will likely be somewhat polarizing. All the marketing materials show the Smartflower in the backyard of ultra-modern, angular houses shaded in whites and grays. It would probably look a bit out of place next to a run-of-the-mill shades-of-tan 1980s suburban US home. But beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

    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.

    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 is the Smartflower solar flower different from other solar options?

    The Smartflower’s name comes from its design – the solar cells are arranged on individual “petals” that open at the beginning of each day and look like a flower (hence, “solar flower”). After the sun goes down, the Smartflower’s petals fold up and a self-cleaning process kicks in.

    In addition to solar cells, the Smartflower system contains a dual-axis tracker that makes it possible for its petals to follow the sun across the sky throughout the day. Thanks to this tracking capability, the Smartflower can produce significantly more electricity than a similarly-sized rooftop solar panel system – up to 40 percent more, according to Smartflower’s website. The 12-petal, 194 square-foot structure comes with 2.5 kilowatts (kW) of electricity production, which is roughly equivalent to a 3.5 to 4 kW fixed rooftop array.

    While there is currently just one solar flower version available in the U.S., the Austria-based company has plans for two additional models with new features. The Smartflower PLUS will have the same solar electricity generation benefits of the standard Smartflower, plus an integrated battery that provides 6 to 13 kWh of energy storage. It was expected to be available to U.S. customers in early 2018, but the actual rollout has been unclear. There are also plans to bring a Smartflower with integrated electric car charging to the U.S. market (launch date still to be determined).

    How much does a Smartflower cost?

    The cost to install a Smartflower ranges from 25,000 to 30,000, with the average U.S. customer likely paying around 27,000. Pricing for the Smartflower PLUS and the Smartflower with integrated car charging is not yet available.

    How the Smartflower’s price compares to standard solar panels

    The best way to compare solar panel system is to determine the cost per watt of electricity generation. The cost per watt for a Smartflower is anywhere from 6.25 to 7.50, with an average price of about 6.75, assuming that it is equivalent to the production of a 4 kW fixed rooftop array. The installed cost depends on how far the Smartflower is installed from the home, whether a concrete slab foundation needs to be poured, and whether the installation requires additional electrical work.

    By comparison, the average price for a standard ground-mounted solar energy system without tracking capabilities on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace is just 3.11/Watt, or 12,440 for a 4 kW system. If you choose to install a rooftop solar energy system, the cost falls to just 5000.81/Watt, or 11,240 for a 4 kW system.

    How does the Smartflower compare to other solar panel systems?

    The Smartflower offers two unique features that distinguish it from other ground-mounted solar panel systems with tracking capabilities. The first is that it has a self-cleaning function, which ensures that dirt or other grime on the panels won’t cause reduced energy production. The second is that it’s self-contained. According to the Smartflower website, installation takes just two to three hours, and disassembly is similarly easy. As a result, you can take the system with you if you move and install it at your new property.

    The two added features that make the Smartflower unique – tracking and self-cleaning – are only covered under a five-year warranty. By comparison, other manufacturers of dual-axis solar trackers offer 10-year warranties on their products. And without the tracking and self-cleaning functionality, the Smartflower is simply a standard ground-mounted system at twice the price. The company does offer a 25-year warranty for its solar cells and a 10-year warranty for its inverter, both of which are industry standard.

    The Smartflower was initially designed for use in European households. According to Smartflower’s website, the average middle European household uses approximately 3,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) each year, and the product is intended to match that level of electricity demand. Depending on where you live, a Smartflower produces anywhere from 3,400 to 6,200 kWh annually.

    By comparison, the U.S. Energy Information Administration states that the average American household uses over 10,600 kWh each year – nearly triple the average of homes in Europe. As a result, a single Smartflower can only cover 40 to 60 percent of your electric bill assuming your household electricity needs are on par with American averages. That being said, homeowners always have the option of installing more than one.

    Should you buy a Smartflower solar system for your home?

    If you’re design-conscious and interested in an easy-to-install ground-mounted solar PV system but aren’t concerned about covering 100 percent of your electricity needs, then the Smartflower could be a great option for you. However, in most cases, a standard rooftop or ground-mounted system will be significantly more cost-effective for your home.

    sunflower, solar, array

    Generally, a fixed rooftop solar panel system will be the least expensive option to install at your home. If you aren’t able or are unwilling to install a system on your roof, a ground-mounted system – with or without tracking capabilities – can be a reasonable option. The increased electricity production that a tracking system offers is typically best suited for locations that are far from the equator because the position of the sun in the sky varies significantly from season to season.

    Overall, the Smartflower does offer increased production capabilities that can be beneficial, but in many cases, a more cost-effective option is already available to you. It’s up to you to decide whether the Smartflower’s design elements are worth the price premium.

    Even if you have already decided that you want to install ground-mounted solar panels with tracking capabilities, you should compare multiple quotes from solar different installers before making a final decision. Smartflower maintains a network of resellers across the country who can give you a detailed quote on the cost to install a Smartflower at your home. You can get competing quotes for ground-mounted systems from solar installers local to you on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace. Simply make a note in your preferences that you’re interested in receiving quotes for ground-mounted solar energy systems with trackers when you join.

    reading on EnergySage

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    sunflower, solar, array

    How Much Energy Does The Solar Flower Produce?

    Similar to a conventional solar array, the energy produced by the Solar Flower depends on the region and specifics of the installation.

    Nevertheless, the Smartflower produces more energy than a similarly-sized rooftop solar system — 40% more, according to Smartflower’s website.

    Since the Smartflower tracks the Sun, it produces more energy than a standard solar array. For this reason, you can’t use traditional methods, like peak sun hours, to calculate the energy output of the array.

    The Smartflower company states that depending on location, the Smartflower can produce between 3,800 kWh and 6,200 kWh of energy per year.

    For the most accurate forecast, it’s best to approach the Smartflower company directly to arrange a bespoke energy output calculation.

    The product datasheet reports that the Smartflower uses about 400 kWh of energy per year to operate.

    However, if you’re really set on producing a DIY estimate of how much energy the Smartflower will produce, you can use NREL’s online solar calculator, PVWatts.

    In the following section, you’ll learn how to use NREL’s calculator to produce your own estimates of how much energy the Smartflower might produce if installed at your home or business.

    First Example: Phoenix, Arizona

    Let’s look at the installation of a Smartflower in Phoenix, Arizona.

    The first value you must put into the calculator is the location. In this example, we’ll use Phoenix, Arizona.

    The following values you’ll need to inputs into NREL’s calculator are rather technical. They include:

    • DC System Size (kW): 2.5
    • Module Type: Premium
    • Array Type: 2-Axis Tracking
    • DC-AC ratio: 1.10 (located under advanced settings)

    Once you input those values, you can click through to the results. PVWatts will show you an annual and monthly breakdown of the system’s energy output.

    For the example we’ve examined, the estimated annual output is 6,290 kWh.

    Second Example: Dayton, Ohio

    For our second example, we’ll look at the installation of a Smartflower in Dayton, Ohio. The technical inputs are the same as those listed above since the Smartflower is the same.

    Using NREL’s PVWatts tool, the estimated annual output for a Smartflower at Dayton, Ohio, is 4,688 kWh.

    Third Example: Anchorage, Alaska.

    Finally, we’ll look at the output of a Smartflower in Anchorage, Alaska. The technical inputs are the same as those listed above since the Smartflower is the same.

    Using NREL’s PVWatts tool, the estimated annual output for a Smartflower at Anchorage, Alaska, is 3,700 kWh.

    How Much Does The Solar Flower Cost?

    Pricing is not publicly available on the website of the US subsidiary of Smartflower. In addition, supply chain issues, inflation, and other pressures may mean that publicly available pricing is outdated.

    However, a review of publicly available prices:

    Note that these are before any tax credits or incentives have been considered. UK pricing for the Smartflower is available on the UK website.

    Pricing for the Smartflower EV is not publicly available but should be available from your local supplier.

    How Much Land Does A Solar Flower Use?

    One Smartflower takes up about 16 square feet of space. Additionally, some extra land is needed to lay a cable connecting the Smartflower to the building’s electrical board.

    The Smartflower, or Solar Flower, is an innovative and attractive sculpture that produces solar energy. It’s available in the USA and Europe, offering a balance between aesthetics and practicality.

    If you value price and simplicity above anything else, the Smartflower may not be for you. You might be better served by installing a conventional solar array at your home or business, such as a rooftop array. The system will be predictable and trouble-free.

    However, if you value a solar installation that is visually striking, and want to make a “splash” at your home, business, or other location, the Smartflower may be right up your alley. The system includes long-term warranties for various components and appears to have been refined as a product since its initial launch. Since it comprises two mechanical drives, it will require more maintenance than a conventional rooftop array.

    Using the NREL PVWatts tool and a simple financial calculator, you should be able to determine if the installation makes sense financially. Additionally, photo montages may help you decide if the Smartflower visually suits your home or business.

    In conclusion, you should speak directly to your local Smartflower supplier to assess any potential installation for suitability for your needs.

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