Mounting Solar Panels
The rooftop can be said to be the solar panels best home. Majority of solar panels are manufactured to be retrofitted onto rooftops with the help of metal parts. Mounting on rooftops are a practicality; there they are closest to the sun and receive the the largest possible amount of sunlight. Also, mounting solar panels on rooftops is a way to create utility for an rarely used architectural space. In this way, land space that can be used for other purposes can be conserved.
Mounting solar panels on rooftops create an aesthetic challenge. Most solar panels do not integrate aesthetically well with roofs. They announce their presence on rooftops in ways that could be ugly and distracting. A high-minded attempt to make solar panels more appealing gave birth to the solar skins.
But certainly the rooftop is not solar panels' only home. Rooftops do not always guarantee the highest amount of sunlight and in turn, an increase in panel productivity. Solar flowers are built to automatically 'track' or 'follow' the sun as it rises and sets and thus improve the productivity of the solar panels.
Sun-tracking Solar Panels
Solar trackers are devices that follows the sun as it moves across the sky. When coupled with solar panels, they enable the panels to follow the path of the sun and produce more energy.
They are often integrated into ground-mount solar systems. Recently, rooftop-mounted trackers have also started to be available in the market. Ground mounted solar panels are usually a requirement for large-scale utility installations. The solar arrays are attached to the racking system with its foundation cast in concrete. There are cases where ground mounted solar arrays are required for residential installations especially with considerations about space allocation and shading.
Types of Solar Trackers
They have to be manually adjusted by someone at different times of the day to keep up with the sun. This requires constantly monitoring the sun and changing the position of the panels with it. This obviously is a hassle.
Passive trackers contain a liquid with a low boiling point that will evaporate when exposed to solar radiation. When the liquid evaporates, the tilt system becomes imbalanced causing the panels to tilt towards the direction of the sun’s rays.
Active trackers work with the help of electric motors or hydraulic cylinders to change position. The motors in active trackers automatically adjusts the panels so they are facing the sun.
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.
How the SmartFlower Works
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. The system also monitors weather conditions and uses the information to decide whether to close its petals for protection.
5. Information about the system is logged on an app. With the app, the system can be controlled.
6. 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.
Why It Makes Little Sense
Not Enough Power
Designed for European households, the solar flower can produce a peak output of 2.5kW/h. A system of this size is at best 'medium-sized'. SmartFlower intends to release larger systems. 2.5kW is 50% of the net energy needs of SolarKobo's typical clientele. An extra system has to be installed to offset the deficit. This adds to the cost of investment.
Cannot Be Scaled
In search of additional power, the solar flower cannot be scaled up with the addition of extra panels.
Excluding tax incentives that are not available to foreigners, shipping costs and the cost of installation, at $27,000 for the hardware alone, the solar flower is hugely overpriced. The two standout features of the solar flower are the tracking and self-cleaning functions. Without them, it is just a typical ground-mounted system offered at twice the price.
Considering that Nigeria receives more sunlight than the areas where these system are manufactured, it is safe to say that especially for residential solar systems, sun-tracking systems are not worth the additional costs they incur the owner. This is why solar trackers are hardly used in the design of residential systems. Solar-tracking systems find their use in large-scale commercial installations. Yet, this need can be offset in a more cost-effective way, by slightly oversizing the system to make up for the deficit.
Even though SmartFlower says their product can generate up to 40% more than a conventional solar panel, it still makes very little sense, financially at least. The solar flower's greatest appeal is not its utility but its flexibility in ground-space management, smart features and sophisticated design. For the price of the solar flower, (excluding shipping since it is not sold in Nigeria), and using the same Victron components, Solarkobo can design and install a rooftop system five times larger, and a sun-tracking system at least twice larger and with twice the warranty!