James Cameron, director of Titanic and Avatar, is a solar power advocate. Actually, “advocate” may not be strong enough. He is a solar power fanatic who is determined to convert the movie industry to renewable energy so it can shrink its carbon footprint.
Although he likes the look of solar panels, he knows they are not appropriate for many residential and commercial purposes. Too many buildings have roofs that are at the wrong angle or face the wrong direction for a rooftop solar system to be effective. Historic buildings can’t always have solar panels installed and the ubiquitous red clay tiles common to southern California are disfigured by solar panels. Also, fixed solar panels only operate at their highest efficiency for a brief period of time every day.
So Cameron decided to do something. Let’s call it “thinking outside the roof.” What he came up with was an arrangement of 10 solar panels surrounded by 14 other panels. The finished structure stands 33 feet high and measures 28.5 feet across. Cameron calls it a Sun Flower.
The Sun Flower’s best feature is that it tracks the sun during the day to maximize the amount of electricity the panels make. Cameron partnered with solar company Sonnen on the tracking technology, which uses astronomic data to calculate the sun’s position and align the panels accordingly throughout the day. The unit is capable of producing 260 kWh or electricity every day, which is more than enough to meet 100% of the energy needs of most single family houses.
According to Gizmodo, the first Sun Flowers were installed last month on the Malibu campus of the MUSE School, a nonprofit school focused on environmental learning which was cofounded by his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron. Five Sun Flowers produce most of the electricity needed to operate the school.
Rather than launch a solar startup himself to put these into production, Cameron is working to make all the design documents for the Sun Flowers open source. He has filed a patent to prevent someone else from claiming authorship of the project. Once that process is complete, he will post all the information publicly so that others can put his idea into production. It’s possible that smaller versions will be available for applications that need less electrical power.
While Elon Musk is grabbing all the headlines with his Powerwall, Cameron’s Sun Flower could be the best idea of the year. I know the roof on my house is not suited to a solar panel array and I already have a spot in my yard picked out for one of these. Add a battery and an inverter and I will be off the grid almost entirely.