Solar flower: The complete SmartFlower product review

The Smartflower solar flower is an all-in-one ground-mounted solar system with a tracker that follows the sun. However, it doesn't look like the solar panels you might be used to. Learn all about the product, how it compares to other solar options, and whether you should consider one for your home in our Smartflower solar review.

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In late 2017, the Austrian manufacturer of the Smartflower began bankruptcy proceedings in Germany. However, the U.S. division of Smartflower operated independently from the original Austrian developer and had planned on starting to manufacture Smartflower solar flowers in the United States.

It is currently unclear how available the Smartflower is or if it will ever be widely available. However, it has been installed at a handful of U.S. houses and organizations like the Detroit Zoo and Mary Baldwin University. The U.S. division of Smartflower is currently based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Smartflower model

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 allows 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, 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 as 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).

Smartflower models

Installing 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 prices is to determine the electricity generation cost per watt. 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 producing a 4 kW fixed rooftop array. The installed cost depends on how far the Smartflower is installed from your home, whether a concrete slab foundation needs to be poured, and whether the installation requires additional electrical work.

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 $2.81/watt or $11,240 for a 4 kW system.

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 two to three hours, and disassembly is similarly straightforward. 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 annually – nearly triple the average of European homes. 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 can always install more than one.

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, the Smartflower could be a great option. However, a standard rooftop or ground-mounted system will be significantly more cost-effective in most cases.

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 far from the equator because the sun's position 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 to install ground-mounted solar panels with tracking capabilities, you should compare multiple quotes from different solar installers before making a final decision. Smartflower maintains a network of resellers nationwide who can give you a detailed quote on the cost of installing a Smartflower at your home. You can get competing quotes for ground-mounted systems from solar installers local to you on the EnergySage Marketplace. When you join, note in your preferences that you're interested in receiving quotes for ground-mounted solar energy systems with trackers.

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