Solar Panel Harnesses ‘Flower Power’

Solar panels may be good for the environment. Their look, however, is less than good for a backyard’s beauty.

A Boston-based solar panel company is trying to fix that problem.

SmartFlower Solar, which started in Austrian before moving to New England, designed a solar panel that looks, and in some ways acts, like a sunflower. According to the company’s website, the panel is 40 percent more efficient than standard solar panels because, just like sunflowers, it follows the sun.

It works like this: In the morning, the SmartFlower unfolds and directs its photovoltaic petals towards the sunrise. As the day progresses, the panel tracks with the sun so that it always receives the most possible light. Once the sun sets, the flower automatically folds itself and waits for the next morning.

The panel turns on two axes, allowing it to remain at an optimal angle to the sun any time of the year. In summer, the sun sits higher in the sky and emits more light. In the winter, it sits lower and emits less. The SmartFlower adjusts itself accordingly.

Unlike traditional home and commercial panels, the SmartFlower can be moved with relative ease. The unit can also detect high winds and will fold itself to prevent damage. The flower panel cleans itself whenever the petals fold and unfold. It also cools itself, preventing the photovoltaic cells from overheating, which can lower its efficiency.

The base model is a “plug-and-play” system, meaning that the device can be connected and used without any additional reconfiguration. Consumers can connect energy from the flower to their homes or electric vehicles directly. Many solar panels do not come equipped with a battery and so cannot store energy. But the Smartflower does and can.

After installing hundreds of panels around Europe, SmartFlower filed for bankruptcy in Austria in late 2017. American investor Jim Gordon, who first exhibited the SmartFlower at a San Francisco convention in 2016, claims the company’s U.S. division is going strong.

Recent U.S. purchasers of the SmartFlower include Virginia Wesleyan University and the Detroit Zoo.

The SmartFlower is part of a general effort by solar panel companies to create panels that are not eye-sores. Other examples of this trend include Tesla’s solar roofs and Sistine Solar’s camouflage panels.

According to EnergySage, the base SmartFlower model costs between $25,000 and $30,000. By comparison, more traditional mounted solar panels are priced in the $12,000 to $14,000 range.

The SmartFlower may not, by itself, provide enough power to fulfill needs of the average American household, which typically consumes more power than the average house in Europe. According to EnergySage, the SmartFlower produces between 3,400 and 6,200 kWh each year. An average American house uses more than 10,000 kWh per year.

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