Archive: Detroit Zoological Society Adds Flower Power to Energy-Saving Measures

Solar-powered smartflower is first in Michigan, first in a zoo

April 11, 2018

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is putting the “petal” to the metal in its ongoing efforts to be environmentally sustainable with the installation at the Detroit Zoo of the smartflower, an all-in-one ground-mounted solar-panel system.

Developed in Austria, the smartflower bears no resemblance to the garden-variety solar-panel system, but rather derives its name from the design.  Based on the concept of how a sunflower follows the sun, the 16-by-16-foot system features 12 solar “petals” that trail the sun across the sky throughout the day via a GPS-based dual-axis tracker.  When the sun rises in the morning, the system unfolds and begins to rotate, producing energy by setting its petals at a 90-degree angle.  The petals close when the sun goes down.

Because the smartflower is always at an optimal angle to the sun, it can generate 40 percent more energy than a traditional solar-panel system.  The system also cleans itself twice a day, further increasing its efficiency by removing dust, snow, ice and other particles.

The smartflower at the Detroit Zoo is blooming in the garden just east of the wildlife Carousel and is estimated to generate more than 4,000 kilowatts of electricity annually – enough to power the 36-foot ride as well as other areas of the Zoo.  It is the first system of its kind to be installed in Michigan and the first at any zoo in the country.

“As we continue on our green journey, we see ourselves as a laboratory for sustainable innovation,” said DZS Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan.  “This unique solar-powered system is another ‘first’ for us and an example of something folks can consider doing at home to help reduce their ecological footprint.”

Other environmentally sustainable innovations for the DZS include building the first zoo-based anaerobic digester in the country, which annually converts 1 million pounds of animal manure and organic food waste into energy to help power the Detroit Zoo’s animal hospital.  The DZS is also keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of lakes, rivers and oceans annually by no longer selling bottled water on Zoo grounds.

The smartflower makes its debut just in time for the Detroit Zoological Society’s sixth annual GreenFest at the Detroit Zoo on Saturday, April 14, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The event is dedicated to celebrating Earth Day (observed this year on April 22) and engaging the community in environmental stewardship.