Being advocators of a sustainable energy we love to hear of new progresses and advances in solar energy. To some this latest talking point may come from an unlikely source, but if you know film-maker James Cameron for his other passions away from the movie world, you will know this is probably an invention that is set to mean something special is coming.

 James Cameron, the creator of the Sun Flower- Quality Unearthed

James Cameron boasted in 2009 when his blockbuster film, Avatar, was released that it would be the first ever solar-powered movie franchise in historyAnd now he’s turned his hand to making solar panels that are of equal quality to his films, for the rest of us.


Cameron himself operates on solar energy on his film sets as well as having a 50-kilowatt array on his personal Santa Barbara County property in the United States. There’s one hurdle that may have been overlooked or swept under the carpet that Mr Cameron openly acknowledges, and that is the blatant fact that, and I quote, “they’re just kinda ugly”.


As a result of their weight and footprint, solar panels are more than often designed to stay whenever they are affixed. Panels are set up in a certain way to receive the greatest amount of solar energy, but unfortunately this prime placement also means the performance of the panels will take a nose dive at other times of the day. Furthermore there’s the task for homeowners whose roofs may not have the good fortune to face the paramount direction, or indeed are made out of a material that doesn’t comfortably and easily support the heavy panels.


This is where James Cameron used his intelligence and passion, combined the two and developed a design that could track the sun’s movement throughout all times of the day. The design meant that there is an increase in productivity, and would not solely rely on a roof’s pitch for the optimal form of installation… he chose a sunflower. Quite a fitting choice given that sunflowers will turn to face the sun throughout the day too.


The creation comprises of 33-foot-tall “flowers” with a collection of panels which are individually welded and bolted together. Each 28.5-foot-wide flower has five central panels that are accompanied by 14 “petals.”


Cameron then moved on to the next step of figuring out how the tracking for the flowers would work. This is where solar company Sonnen came in. The company used astronomic data to calculate the sun’s position and then align the panels as a result of this data throughout the day.


The initial batch of these impressive Sun Flowers have been installed on the Malibu campus of the MUSE School. The MUSE school is a non-profit school tailored to environmental learning.


Currently, the grid-tied system is producing around 260 kWh a day. This amount of energy means that the school receives between 75% – 90% of the power it needs through the Sun Flowers. However, Cameron is confident that during peak summer months the panels could well be the source of the full 100 percent. And what’s more, Cameron’s team additionally developed a dashboard tool that allows students to observe the energy generation from their classroom.


The five Sun Flowers that are scattered in various positions around the grounds of MUSE almost look like modern pieces of site-specific art for all to observe. And just the fact that the Sun Flowers aren’t fixed on someone’s roof and to a certain extent sculptural is a big step in the evolution of solar energy devices.


There is also one significant benefit to Cameron’s design in that the panels are positioned high above the ground and are shaped like something you’d see in a beer garden or at the beach to protect yourself from the midday sun, meaning they double up as the perfect source of shade to anyone standing below. There’s no doubt that these inventions could be easily placed into a back garden, or into a local park to supply power to the area.


And just when you think things couldn’t get much better with this whole scenario, James Cameron has, instead of launching a solar start-up for himself for the production of the Sun Flowers, decided to work to make all the design documents for the Sun Flowers open-source. What this means is that he has filed a patent to thwart anyone else from claiming authorship of the project, but as soon as the patent is acquired he’ll post all the necessary information publicly for one and all to use, should they want to.


You can watch the video of the solar powered sunflower in action here: 


And who knows, the next time you’re embarking on your UK glamping holidays, you might see one of these. But with an idea as cool and innovative as this, we should all be pleased to see them dotted around, right?


Image: Steve Jurvetson under Creative Commons.

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