For the past few years, Natalya Lowther has watched Mark Moser hammer out the details of a portable solar tracker in her father’s backyard in Manhattan.
Last weekend, Lowther held a demonstration of Moser’s equipment, known as Konza Portable Solar Trackers, on her North Lawrence farm during a seasonal sheep shearing session. What she found was a technology — mounted on the back of a truck — that could be applicable throughout the farm.
“This is actually really fun to watch,” Lowther said of the solar tracker.
Along with being portable, what makes the solar tracker system unique is the solar panels’ ability to adjust to the brightest spot in the sky. The mounting and tracking system can be used for anything that has to be orientated towards the sun, not just solar panels, Moser said.
Moser, a mechanical engineer by trade, decided to launch his invention at Lowther’s Pinwheel Farm.
“I thought it went really well until the rain dumped,” Moser said.
On Saturday, Moser brought four solar panels, which on a sunny day can generate about 200 watts of electricity each. Even in Saturday’s rain there was enough electricity to keep the shears buzzing.
That technology won’t necessarily be applicable to Lowther’s sheep shearing operation, which can easily be accomplished with the use of extension cords.
But she sees potential for portable solar panels for drilling a water well or using the panels instead of a generator while building a shed on the farm.
“We are looking at ways of moving beyond conventional energy sources so that the farm stays sustainable, stays functional no matter what is going on with the conventional energy system around us,” Lowther said.
Moser was looking to fill a gap in the solar energy market. Solar trackers can be found on fixed structures and there are portable solar panels that don’t track.
“This sits on a pole and if the sun comes up that is where it goes,” Moser said.
The solar panels readjust every five minutes to find the most light in the sky.
That movement makes the technology far more exciting for Lowther than the typically inert solar panels on rooftops.
“Ordinarily solar energy is kind of boring,” she said. “There is something to watch there. It engages you in your power production, and that is really exciting.”
The medium-sized tracker and frame mount, which was what Moser had on display Saturday, is priced at $3,000. The cost doesn’t include solar panels.
Lowther plans to continue to show off the solar tracking system by displaying it at the Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market and at the Lawrence Earth Day Celebration on April 16.
“I think Lawrence is the perfect place for this,” Moser said. “It’s much more open to innovation than just about any other place in Kansas.”