Detroit Zoo Installs ‘Smartflower’ Solar System

The Detroit Zoo is now home to a “smartflower,” a ground-mounted solar system that features 12 solar “petals” trailing the sun via a GPS-based, dual-axis tracker.

Based on the concept of how a sunflower follows the sun, the 16-by-16-foot system unfolds and begins to rotate when the sun rises in the morning; it then produces energy by setting its petals at a 90-degree angle. The petals then close when the sun goes down.

Developed in Austria, the system also cleans itself twice a day, further increasing its efficiency by removing dust, snow, ice and other particles.

The smartflower is blooming in the garden just east of the zoo’s carousel and is estimated to generate enough energy 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, according to the Detroit Zoo.

“As we continue on our green journey, we see ourselves as a laboratory for sustainable innovation,” says Ron Kagan, the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) CEO and executive director. “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 U.S.’ first zoo-based anaerobic digester, 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 is making its debut just in time for the society’s sixth-annual GreenFest at the Detroit Zoo on Saturday, April 14. The event is dedicated to celebrating Earth Day and engaging the community in environmental stewardship.

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