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Planet | 10 Aug 2021

How the solar Smartflower makes electricity all day long

Vodafone has installed an innovative solar energy ‘Smartflower’ at its Newbury campus - another step on its journey towards 'net zero' carbon emissions.

A foldable, rotating array of petal-shaped photovoltaic solar panels, the Smartflower not only produces up to 40% more power than conventional solar panels, it looks prettier, too.

Made in Austria and installed by a local UK distributor, it rotates on its axis and tilts so that it always maintains the optimal 90-degree angle to the sun. This ability to mimic the behaviour of a sunflower – which also turns to face the sun throughout the day, hence ‘tournesol’ in French or ‘girasole’ in Italian – is something conventional fixed solar panels can’t do and helps generate more electricity.

Although just 4.8m in diameter, the Smartflower is capable of generating more than 5,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) a year – more than enough electricity to power a four-bedroom house over the same period.

It is also self-cleaning. Once the sun has set, the Smartflower folds up its petals and integrated brushes sweep away dirt and dust. This helps maximise efficiency. It also folds up automatically when it detects high winds.

Vodafone plans to install 10 of these Smartflowers at office locations in the UK, South Africa, Germany, Spain and Italy, as visible symbols of its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.

Towards net zero

In the UK, every area of the company’s business – including its network, data centres, retail stores and offices – is now 100% powered by electricity from renewable sources. This comes on top of its recently announced ambition to reach net zero carbon emissions across its UK operations by 2027.

Powering a network that connects up to 16 million people at any time accounts for 95% of Vodafone’s total energy usage in the UK. So the company is working to reduce energy consumption, waste production and carbon emissions in a number of ways. From reselling or recycling 100% of its redundant network equipment, to ‘greening’ its car and van fleet; from launching trade-in for mobile phones and a new device Eco Rating scheme, to helping businesses save almost 500,000 tonnes of CO2, largely through the use of Internet of Things technologies.

Group-wide, Vodafone’s entire European operations have been 100% powered by electricity from certifiably renewable sources since July 2021, and it plans to reduce carbon emissions across its 21 operating companies to ‘net zero’ by 2030, and those of its entire supply chain by 2040.

The Smartflower is just another way Vodafone is demonstrating its commitment to reducing its environmental impact.

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