Matt Power, Editor-In-Chief of Green Builder Media
The universe of ‘smart’ products that enhance the performance of green energy keeps getting longer. Here are some of the brands leading in this new frontier.
smartflower Self-Contained Solar Power
Smartflower had a successful launch in Europe, and will be available in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2017. This cleverly designed unit automatically fans out its solar petals at sunrise to face the sun, then follows it at a 90-degree angle all day, using GPS-based dual-axis tracking (not unlike a flower). It then closes up as the sun sets.
This close tracking allows smartflower to produce up to 40 percent more output than static solar arrays, making it the equivalent of a 4- to 5-kW rooftop system. The efficiency of smartflower improves even more, because the panels are self-cleaning. Every time they unfurl or close, tiny brushes on the back of each panel brush dust, dirt and snow off the one underneath it. Each “petal” is also rear-ventilated, so hot air won’t accumulate within the system. This keeps the petals cool enough to deliver up to 10 percent more output than other panels.
In winds higher than 40 mph, the petals automatically fold in and stow away, leaving a fully shuttered unit that will withstand hurricane level conditions. Lastly, smartflower units with storage provide remote monitoring, allowing the owner to access by any smart device at any time of day a wealth of data about the unit’s power generation and use.
Echo and Alexa: The Perfect Couple?
What makes Echo noteworthy in the world of Smart Plus Solar is that it takes voice commands to a new level. The unit has seven microphones and beamforming technology that allow it to distinguish human voices from across the room—even while music is playing. Those voices are then interpreted by Alexa programming.
Along with this listening ability, Echo also functions as an expertly tuned speaker that can fill any room with 360-degree immersive sound.
Today, there are tens of thousands of developers building Alexa skills, and over 4,000 Alexa skills now available to customers; they can play games, pay bills online or find music. But beyond these daily tasks, new skills will likely include energy management, including integration with smart meters.
Bob Shively, president of Enerdynamics, notes that voice commands with an integrated device such as Echo are likely to become the standard for controlling the intelligent home of the future. “Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant,” he notes, “accessed through the home Echo speaker, can already perform voice-activated functions such as adjusting thermostats and lighting levels, controlling switches and querying security systems to see whether a window is open.”
Although there are no dedicated solar power management apps for Alexa at present, some are already in the works. And with phone control of the Echo already possible through the Roger app, Echo and its voice-linked abilities will continue into the arena of home energy saving. The Echo is on sale for just $139 retail at the time of this writing, and with the Amazon Echo Dot, you can add Alexa controls to multiple rooms.