GOODFIELD – The Smartflower had barely blossomed when it attracted attention. A motorist driving on Interstate 74 spotted it and left the highway to take a look at the unusual solar power system.
“That's pretty cool,” he said before driving away.
That's the reaction Halo Solar and Zeller Electric are expecting.
The two companies are separate entities, but share space in Zeller Electric's building in Goodfield. According vice president of operations, Brian Rieke, Zeller does most of the installations for Halo Solar's projects.
“It's designed to look like a sunflower,” commented Tyler Barth, Halo Solar’s project manager. The Smartflower catches one’s eye as well as the sun's rays.
Each “petal” of this “flower” is covered in panels that convert sunshine to electricity.
According to Barth, unlike conventional fixed ground or roof solar-power systems, the Smartflower has a dual-axis tracker that follows the sun throughout the day and throughout the year. It closes at night. Brushes on the petals clean the panels.
The two point eight-kilowatt system is 16 feet tall and 16 feet in diameter when open. An optional add-on allows electric vehicles to be charged by the Smartflower.
Barth added a company logo can be added to the panels, only decreasing power production by 10 percent.
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Businesses and institutions who want to “show what they represent,” are the most likely customers, said Barth.
“We hope it hits hospitals and universities,” said Rieke.
Rieke added Zeller Electric intends to put its logo on the Smartflower and “we're putting solar on the roof” as part of its commitment to sustainability. In designing its building in Goodfield, Zeller Electric used old shipping containers to create offices and meeting room.
Barth majored in renewable energy at Illinois State University, Normal, where he was also part of their solar car team that competed in an international race Abu Dhabi.
“Originally, I was looking at getting into the research and development side of it,” said Barth. But he noted his current job, designing systems, estimating costs and understanding and explaining tax credits, “matches pretty well” with his interests and education.
Barth expects “a big dash for the end of the year” as people look to get systems in place before federal renewable energy tax credits change.
According to Barth, Halo Solar was founded in December in 2017 and has installed enough ground-based and roof-mounted solar systems to power 500 homes. The Smartflower installed earlier this month at Zeller Electric was its first of that type.
Rob Rieke, field foreperson for Zeller Electric, said he has seen “a fair amount of different systems” and “the Smartflower system is the easiest system to install.”
According to Barth, a standard ground system costs about $36,000 and a standard roof system costs about $30,000. The Smartflower costs about $27,000, but produces less power. Both federal and state tax credits and incentives are available.