It’s early morning at Sorrel River Ranch in Moab, Utah, and against the backdrop of red rocks there stands a large black flower soaking in the sun’s rays. This 16-foot-tall blossom isn’t anything you’ll find in nature; it’s the SmartFlower, a solar device that unfolds its petals at sunrise and closes back up at sunset, slowly turning to face the sun throughout the day like a real sunflower to maximize efficiency. The resulting power output—4,500 to 6,200 kilowatt hours per year—can be up to 40 percent more than that of a fixed solar panel.
Developed in Austria, the SmartFlower started cropping up across America last year, in locations including the Detroit Zoo, the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden, the Florida State University campus, and the sustainable Sorrel River Ranch (which became the first hotel to install one last December). “If we can self-generate a little bit more of our energy and be a bit less reliant on outside resources, I think that is great for our ranch and also for our guests and the world,” says Sorrel River Ranch general manager Ron Morin. “I see how much sun is out there, and if we’re not using solar panels to collect it, we’re wasting energy every day.”
Indeed, Sorrel River Ranch has been so pleased with the SmartFlower that the resort installed a second one, on the banks of the Colorado River, to power a processing plant that supplies the ranch’s water.