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Smartflower Solar Review: Beautiful Solar That's Not Worth It

Beautiful design with a high price tag are why most of the company's customers are organizations, not homeowners.

Smartflower opened and facing forward.
Smartflower solar panels unfurl in the morning and track the sun across the sky.
Smartflower

In the residential solar industry, one company has charted a different path. It's producing solar electricity, not with rooftop panels or a traditional ground mounted rack, but with solar powered sunflowers.

Smartflower Solar offers what it calls "sculptural" solar: an array of panels that unfurls in the morning, tracks the sun across the sky and folds up at night. It looks like a large, mechanical flower. Smartflower turns solar into a statement as well as a conversation piece and does both with a pretty simple installation process. But while some customers may prefer Smartflower's look, it comes at a premium.

5.6

Smartflower Solar

Like

  • Looks great
  • Easy installation
  • Exciting design

Don't Like

  • Too expensive
  • Not practical for everyone
  • Some warranties could be stronger

It's the price that makes Smartflower a less-than-perfect fit for residential applications. (The company sells mostly to corporate clients, where eye-catching solar arrays advertise sustainability commitments.) Ultimately, you can get the same output from rooftop panels for less money. That's unfortunate because Smartflower is a striking and elegant bit of quality equipment that comes with storage options and warranties that are decent, though not the strongest in the field. But since price drives a lot of solar purchases, Smartflower gets a lower score.

Solar is a tricky category to review. Because of the industry's nature and the cost of panels, this review doesn't rely on hands-on testing. While I researched as thoroughly as was feasible, this review should only be one part of your own research. You should get multiple quotes, including from local installers, before signing any contract.

What do I get from Smartflower?

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Smartflower is a large mechanical flower with solar panels for petals. The panels operate with dual axis tracking, which means they follow the sun to always face it at an ideal 90 degrees. It has a peak capacity of 2.5 kilowatts, but because they can always directly face the sun, according to CEO Jim Gordon, Smartflowers produce about 40% more electricity than similarly sized rooftop solar arrays. Smartflower's website says one system will produce 4,000 to 6,500 kWh per year, depending on weather and location.

Smartflower's solar installations are ground mounted: The panels, inverter and optional battery are part of one freestanding structure that is delivered fully assembled. Installation is about as close to plug-and-play as any major solar installation can claim. One Smartflower stands about 16 feet tall when its 12 solar petals are fully unfurled. The inverter is housed within the pedestal (the "stem" of the Smartflower) and comes from either Fronius or Sunny Boy. The inverter will have an efficiency rating of 96.5%, said Gordon. That's near the highest performing inverters on the market.

Smartflower also offers a Smartflower Plus, which includes energy storage in SimpliPhi batteries: The three lithium-ion batteries hold 11.4 kilowatts of energy. 

Smartflowers will open and close automatically to start and end each day, and they will close in the event of high winds as measured by a wind meter the company installs about 10 feet from the solar array. At sustained gusts of 30 mph, Smartflower will lay horizontal but open; at 40 mph, the array will close up and stow itself until it's safe to open again. Whenever a Smartflower closes, it is also cleaned via small, panel-safe brushes attached to its back that sweep the panel's surface. You can monitor the whole system through a smartphone app that allows you to view your energy production and open and close the system manually.

Smartflower is covered by a few warranties. The system is guaranteed to produce at 80% of its rated production at the end of 25 years. That's as long as major panel manufacturer warranties, but the guaranteed production is less than some. The inverter is covered by a 10-year warranty, which is close to other inverter warranties. The entire system is covered by a two-year system warranty, which takes care of maintenance.

You also get a statement piece for your home. One criticism of solar panels (which I don't really buy) is that they're ugly. Smartflower is anything but. While I haven't seen one in person, photos and videos of the installations can be really striking.

Is Smartflower Solar a good deal?

Purchasing a Smartflower is bound to be more expensive than roof or ground mounted panels. According to Gordon, most of Smartflower's clients are commercial customers. In those cases, a large, striking solar sculpture makes a visible statement about a company's commitment to sustainability. Companies have been willing to pay a premium for the messaging.

Gordon didn't share a Smartflower's price, saying they vary from installation to installation, but mentioned the cost was around $30,000 in a 2019 segment on the show This Old House. While Smartflower doesn't easily compare to a rooftop solar installation, if your motivation is to get solar power for the cheapest possible price, Smartflower isn't your best bet. With a price of $30,000 and production near 4.5 kilowatts, Smartflower costs over $6.50 per watt. This is well over the national average for rooftop solar, which the energy analysts at Wood Mackenzie said was $3.28 in 2021. (Other sources report lower numbers.) EnergySage reported average installation costs by state ranged from $2.33 per watt in Arizona to $3.43 in Washington, DC. 

When you purchase a Smartflower, like other solar installations, you'll be eligible to receive the federal solar tax credit, which currently refunds you 26% of the cost of solar and battery for installations through 2022.

Smartflower closed up near a pond.

Smartflower closes when the sun goes down.

Smartflower

Gordon agrees that Smartflower isn't the cheapest option out there, but argues that price per watt doesn't accurately reflect all the benefits of the system's dual-axis tracking. Because the system can shift to face the morning and the evening sun, Smartflower is likely to produce more energy at those times of day compared to fixed arrays oriented south. This could be an advantage as more utilities add time-of-use pricing that raises prices in the early evening. Smartflower may be able to offset more of the high cost energy than other solar options. The extent of this advantage will depend on the fixed array a Smartflower is replacing, but fixed rooftop arrays will likely continue to be the cheaper option, even with Smartflower's tracking.

For some customers, there's additional peace of mind that they can install solar without messing with their roof, Gordon said. While solar installers typically guarantee installation won't cause leaks for a number of years, a ground mount might be an attractive option to homeowners who want to go solar before replacing their roof. Solar panels can be removed and reinstalled for roof repairs, but usually at a cost.

Ultimately, people choose Smartflower for its look and to generate electricity while making a statement about sustainability. Smartflower can add to the look of a home without altering the appearance of the actual structure, Gordon said.

Does Smartflower operate in my state? How do I order?

If you want Smartflower, you can almost certainly get it where you are: The company operates across the United States and installs Smartflowers around the world.

People interested in Smartflower can inquire online or with a phone call. The company then provides a virtual presentation to answer product questions. Because there's no need to check on the quality of the roof, Smartflower can be sited remotely using Google Earth. (It needs about a 16-foot cube of free space to fully unfurl and track the sun.) The company then provides a written quote and, if the customer accepts, a Smartflower is shipped to them.

A Smartflower is open in front of an old hotel.

A Smartflower unfurls in Paris.

Smartflower

Installation takes an average of half a day though many take less, Gordon said. Installers dig a trench and lay wires and conduit from the house to the Smartflower's location. The Smartflower is anchored to the ground with four large screws, though in some cases it's installed on a previously poured cement foundation. Because a Smartflower is simply bolted to the ground, it can easily be unbolted and moved to other locations. (It weighs 1,700 pounds, so "easily" is relative here.)

Because Smartflower installation requires the same skills as installing common equipment like a generator, finding qualified installers across such a wide geographical area is not difficult, Gordon said. Smartflower trains and certifies all its installers.

Is Smartflower the best choice?

If you're looking for solar for your home, Smartflower will work best for people who love the unique look or want to make a visible statement about their energy use. While Smartflower is undeniably cool looking, for most homeowners rooftop panels or a ground mounted, fixed array is going to make more sense from a strictly financial perspective. It's likely twice as expensive per watt than the average rooftop array. 

Its warranties are strong, though not as strong as some rooftop panels and installers (this isn't a great comparison anyway). The equipment that makes up a Smartflower, while not the most widely used in the industry, does the job well. If you love the look and have extra money to spend though, you won't be able to get Smartflower from any other company. 

It's worth noting that while this article is thoroughly researched, it doesn't rely on any empirical testing I have done myself. It shouldn't serve as a replacement for getting multiple quotes from local and national installers to find the solar solution that best fits your needs and your property.