Sunflower Horizons

Portable solar trackers follow the sun, lead the way in efficiency

Mark Moser, Manhattan, Kan., spoke at the Pinwheel Farm in Lawrence Saturday, March 19, 2011. Moser discussed the different ways that his Konza Solar Tracker — a portable solar panel system — could be used on the farm.

March 22, 2011

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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.”

Comments

riverdrifter 6 years, 10 months ago

"But she sees potential for portable solar panels for drilling a water well"

Think this should read for pumping a water well, not drilling. Solar powered pumps are taking over well pumping for livestock on the great plains from windmills, which require a crane to service, have many moving parts and so on. Decades of wind data on the Great Plains also show that winds are gradually decreasing.

huskerpower 6 years, 10 months ago

It would be interesting to see the efficiency gains vs. the power used to move the panel every "X" minutes

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

Agreed.

Although with efficient appliances (not even as extreme as Sun Frost refrigerators), and mindfulness, you can probably do pretty well.

Central air conditioning is the largest single electric draw, and refrigerators are the next largest. If you're mindful about your habits, ie. setting thermostats differently, not using the systems when you don't need to, etc. you can reduce your overall usage quite a bit.

We have all of the modern conveniences, and we use much less energy than most households.

tolawdjk 6 years, 10 months ago

I have a friend in Denver that recently installed solar panels on his roof. While his lifestyle is what I would call on the "smaller" end of the carbon footprint to begin with, and his kids are grown an out of the house, he does have the bulk of what you mention...flatscreens, computers, dvd, etc. etc. (heck, he still has a working "turntable" for when he craves his vinyl.)

He is the kind that doesn't turn on the AC until June 15th, no matter what the temp, and likes it on the warm side in the house. Summers are the worst...he does still pull from the grid then, and I haven't asked him what his net red/black to date for the buyback is, but I know he has been in the "selling power" mode this spring, and did pretty well even this winter.

gccs14r 6 years, 10 months ago

I'm in the 6kWh/d range now. It goes up a bit with the A/C, but not a whole lot, because it's offset by less lighting. Solar would probably work here if I took out one tree.

jafs 6 years, 10 months ago

How do you get your usage down so low?

We use a lot less than most folks, but more than you do.

TNPlates 6 years, 10 months ago

Neat invention. I hope it's successful!

Ken Lassman 6 years, 10 months ago

"Solar strikes me as a lifestyle change -- not just a change of energy source. We may very well have to go down this path as a nation since we use so much energy, but I think way to many people underestimate the sacrifices that have to be done to accomplish this."

So explain to me how lifestyle doesn't already change? Was your lifestyle the same 5 years ago as it is today? Just as it has evolved over your life, it will continue to evolve. We've adapted to drops in the acoustic quality of phones in order to take advantage of the portability of cell phones. We've adapted to lower quality of sound on an MP3 compared to a CD because of the advantages of MP3 players over CD players. We've adapted to smaller cars due to much better mileage and performance.

We humans are pretty darn adaptable in our lifestyles, and you might be surprised how tolerable things would be in a low carbon energy world. But it makes sense to make evolutionary changes now lest we be faced with revolutionary changes later that will look more like what Japan is going through. Humans will make it through evolution or revolution, but, I think if we have a choice, I'd go with the Beatles on this one.

DemoParty 6 years, 10 months ago

Mark Moser's company website is www.KonzaSolar.com Mark's engineering skill is illuminated by the mechanism for tracking and positioning and yes he has calculated the wind-load issues. My understanding is the the efficiency actually goes up when you install in northern latitudes where there are 20 hour days in the summer and the sun moves thru a bigger arc. Having the tracking ability really pays off then. (downside is shorter days in the winter) He also has a larger size design that handles larger panels. I've read that Germany has a very large installed base of solar energy. It's all about having a "real" policy for self sustained energy production and not just lip service while we launch wars to protect our national security (oil in the gulf). As the price of energy rises, designs like this will become more desireable.

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