Image source: Smartflower
Like the tide, the solar industry is in a constant state of flux. Several times annually, exciting new technologies are born, produced and offered on the market. Such an event in innovation unfolded in 2017 with the debut of the Smartflower™ solar automation system.
This technological breakthrough in solar designs was motivated by the sight of a sunflower turning to follow the sun. Alexandar Swatek and Thomas Daubek created the solar photovoltaic sun tracking system in Austria.
What is the Smartflower solar system?
The Smartflower is a fusion between solar panels and art and follows the theme started with the Tesla solar roof launch, also in 2017, of solar panels evolving to be both aesthetically more pleasing and more efficient.
Much like a real flower, this self-contained system unfolds its petal-panels at sunrise, directs them toward the sun at a 90-degree angle and almost immediately begins to produce electricity.
Thanks to dual-axle sun tracking, the fan reliably tracks the sun throughout the day.
At sunset, the petals automatically retract until the next morning. The Smartflower POP will also automatically retract the petals when winds reach speeds of about 30 miles per hour, which protects the unit during high winds or storms; it's capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds.
Additionally, this new system of solar panels for home use finally settles the industry's long-standing argument over which direction rooftop solar panels should face.
How big is a Smartflower solar array?
When the petals are fully extended, the Smartflower is about 15.5 feet in diameter. The entire structure is about 194 square feet and produces approximately 2.5kW of electricity in peak sunlight conditions.
Like all solar arrays, the exact amount of power it produces will depend on the amount of solar irradiation it has access to which will vary with both weather and seasonal conditions.
What's the energy (kWh) output from Smarflower POP compared to conventional fixed solar panels?
Like all solar systems the exact amount of power produced each year depends on the weather conditions in the area in which it is installed.
Smartflower published an output expectancy map on their website showing the amount of power you can expect to get out of their 2.5kW array.
Image source: Smartflower Pacific
With 5,510kWh per annum in Los Angeles, this is equivalent to a traditional rooftop solar array of about 4kWh.
I am surprised that the same diagram claims that the system will produce 5,270kWh in New York given this is only 5% less than the figure they quote for Los Angeles. Data from static arrays show that solar production in the North East of America per kW of installed panels is usually around 30% less than what it is in Los Angeles
Do costs compare to traditional solar panel systems?
Cost per Watt is the best way to compare operating costs between a Smartflower system and a traditional rooftop solar panels for home use. The costs of installing a single Smartflower varies from $25,000 to $30,000, although the average cost is approximately $27,000.
Notionally this is around $10 per watt or $10,000 per kilowatt but given the extra production makes the 2.5kW system equivalent to a normal 4kW roof-mounted system then this brings the number down to an effective $6.50 per watt.
By comparison, a typical price for a static ground-mounted system minus tracking capability is about $15,000 for a standard 4kWh system. A 4kW rooftop system costs slightly less at about $13,000.
Both types of solar panels for home installation offer 25-year warranties.
In both cases, this amount is before applying the 30% solar tax credit.
After deducting the 30% solar tax credit in the USA then the price of a Sunflower comes down to notionally $7 per watt of gross DC peak capacity or $4.55 per watt for an equivalent production number assuming their 2.5kW unit produces as much power as 4kw of solar panels mounted on a fixed roof.
The cost of the Smartflower after the tax credit will be approximately $17,500
The equivalent cost of the 4kw roof mounted fixed solar array is 2.27 per kW after the tax credit or $9,100
What are the advantages of investing in a Smartflower system?
In addition to an energy production output of up to 40 percent, the Smartflower cuts typical losses in output by up to 15 percent thanks to its smart cooling and cleaning features. It's ideal for homeowners who either can't or don't wish to install traditional rooftop solar panels for home use.
The system's exceptional elevated design enables the solar panels to cool naturally. By air passing behind each “petal” during daylight hours. Such natural cooling ability can lead to an increase in each panel's overall productivity by up to 10 percent, depending on which area of the country the system is installed.
The Smartflower automatically self-cleans each panel every time it opens or closes. Long brushes attached to the underside of each petal's outer edge sweeps the panel beneath it when in movement. This smart feature can also improve production by up to 2 percent, something not available on static solar panels.
This self-cleaning feature is an additional plus in regions that experience multiple winter snowfalls. The movement of the petals combined with the brush action, work together to keep the petals free of snow. It's also been successfully tested at full operation in temperatures as high as 104 degrees and as low as -4 degrees.
What is the installation process for Smartflower solar unit?
For warranties to apply and for proper installation, a Smartflower Solar™ certified technician should install each unit, despite being fully assembled before delivery.
Placement of the system may require using a large forklift or crane.
Additionally, connecting the unit to the home's electrical distribution system requires the skills of a licensed electrician and given the nature of the unit as a free-standing array with moving parts you will need to trench up your garden to connect it to your house supply.
It is likely you will also need to pour a concrete slab to attach the Smartflower to for strength or use a ground screw system. These are things you don't have to worry about when installing fixed solar panels on a roof.
Initial programming also requires the skills of a certified technician.
Because these solar panels for home use are mobile, there are no additional rules governing the need for installation permits or code requirements beyond those already in place at each location. However, your authorized Smartflower dealer will be able to research and obtain any permits necessary to meet any setback and other requirements. If you're interested in an easily installed, ground-mounted solar panel system and you aren't overly concerned about meeting 100 percent of your home's electricity needs, the Smartflower could be a great option.
How much electricity does each Smartflower unit produce?
In the United States, most homes annually consume more electricity than a single Smartflower or rooftop system can produce. A solar system is meant to reduce reliance on the electrical grid, not eliminate it. However, depending on a homeowner's requirements, multiple Smartflower or a combination of Smartflower units and static systems can work together to increase electrical production. Each Smartflower requires at least 16 feet of open space around it.
A Smartflower typically produces between 3,400 and 6,200kWh annually, depending on its location and local climate. For example, sunny climates such as those in the South and Southwest will produce electricity at the top of the range, while regions with fewer sunny days, such as the Northeast, commonly produces electricity toward the bottom range. It's estimated that a single Smartflower system will deliver about 4,000kWh annually or meet 40 to 60 percent of the average American home's electrical needs.
Image source: Smartflower
What is the Smartflower POP+?
The basic Smartflower unit is essentially a semi-mobile dual axis tracking grid connect solar system. There is no battery for energy storage.
However, the Smartflower POP+ is the same system with an integrated hybrid battery inverter and Lithium-Ion battery can then be used to run either a hybrid system or a complete stand-alone off-grid power system.
They have incorporated battery inverters from the Dutch company Victron Energy. I love the Victron Energy company (I have no financial relationship with it). It is a company run by engineers rather than salespeople. I have Victron hybrid battery inverters on my lead-acid battery bank at home and they have been awesome. I think this partnership will give reliability and monitoring to the Smartflower POP+ system that other systems have lacked.
The POP+ comes in two version offering either 4.6kWh or 13.8kWh of energy storage, the larger size being very similar in terms of energy storage to the Tesla Powerwall 2.
Although the system is comparatively expensive I am confident that it will work. Whether this Lithium-Ion battery or any other will work for the full life of the warranty I'm unsure about, but they have chosen to incorporate good electronics and I'm excited about the product.
Why choose a Smartflower system over traditional roof panels?
Aesthetically, the Smartflower POP is a stunning, portable and innovative technology. The solar panels are constructed of thin weatherproof glass that self-clean as the petals open and close.
The system is available in eight different colors, can be installed in under an hour and is anchored to the ground using a concrete foundation or a secure ground anchor. If homeowners eventually move, they can simply take the system with them. The dual axis tracking system keeps the solar panels facing the sun, which allows the system to collect more energy than static arrays.
If you've already decided to install ground-mounted solar panels for home use that include tracking capabilities, always compare multiple quotes from dealers before making a final decision. With its extraordinary construction and flawlessly synchronized components, Smartflower just might be fueling the winds of change for the solar industry.