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NEWS | Feb. 3, 2021

JBSA flips switch on for new Smartflower solar energy devices

By David DeKunder 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Joint Base San Antonio flipped the switch on for two new flower-shaped solar power devices Feb. 1, furthering the base's efforts in energy conservation and eco-friendly initiatives.

The Smartflowers consists of 12 petal-shaped solar panels which open when the sun rises and close when the sun goes down, and each is equipped with an inverter to convert solar energy into electricity. They are also programmed to follow the direction of the sun, maximizing the amount of exposure and solar energy they receive, according to Adam Murdaugh, 802nd Civil Engineer Squadron mechanical engineer.

“They track the sun as they go through the sun’s cycle, and when the sun sets, they return to a ‘home’ position and prepare for the next sunrise,” Murdaugh said.

The solar flowers measure 16 feet across when the petal-shaped solar panels are opened and nine feet when the panels are folded and at rest.

Murdaugh said each solar flower has the capability of providing 6,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually, which will offset the electrical load at each JBSA location where they are installed.

One of the systems is located at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and helps provide power to the electronic marquee at the Walters Street entry control point, which displays messages and announcements to motorists. The other, located at the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center parking garage, helps light the garage and run the personnel carriers used to transport patients to the building.

Each solar flower contains a sealed lead-acid battery which backs up the computer program inside the device, Murdaugh said. The battery also provides power to fold the solar panels if the power shuts off, and when power is restored, the battery will recharge and the panels will unfold and resume tracking the sun.

Murdaugh said meters have been installed on the devices to keep track of how much energy they use and conserve. 

The installation and startup of the solar flowers has been a long process, and was delayed due to COVID-19.

In February 2020, solar flowers were installed at the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston electronic marquee sign location and the Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center parking garage. The onset of the pandemic delayed getting the devices working, as COVID-19 restrictions prohibited technicians from the manufacturer from traveling to JBSA until this year, Murdaugh said. 

The installation of the solar flower devices is one of several solar energy projects JBSA and the 802nd CES have been involved in. Other projects include a solar carport at Building 5595, which houses the 802nd CES at JBSA-Lackland; lighting retrofits at a number of facilities; and the construction of thermal storage tanks at JBSA-Lackland and at JBSA-Chapman Training Annex.

“JBSA’s overall strategy is conserving energy, and we are doing just that with the Smartflower, collecting solar energy to offset the electrical load on the base,” Murdaugh said.