Electric DeLoreans and ‘smart’ solar panels: technologies for the future

Range of new sustainable green technologies on view at SEAI energy show in Dublin

Jim Gannon, SEAI and Paul O’Donnell of Unipipe and the Solar Smart Flower at the Energy Show in the RDS, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

Jim Gannon, SEAI and Paul O’Donnell of Unipipe and the Solar Smart Flower at the Energy Show in the RDS, Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson


The Smart Flower was turning a lot of heads at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland exhibition on Wednesday. Billed as the world’s first self-contained solar PV (photovoltaics) system, the device is a collection of solar panels that fold out to resemble the petals of a flower.

It can be installed in a garden – if it is big enough – after which it will feed electricity into a home through nothing more complex than an electric cable. It tracks the sun for maximum efficiency and is, the sellers say, ideal for retrofits because it is a standalone set-up.

Paul O’Donnell, who has been installing underfloor heating systems and heat pumps in the Republic since the 1980s, came across the flower at a trade show in Italy and was smitten. My wife said she wanted an ornament for the garden so I got her one of these,” he said.

It will generate enough electricity to meet all the needs of an average European house and comes at a cost of around €19,000 which includes delivery and installation, he says.

“To be honest, I am quite new to it and they are quite new too,” Mr O’Donnell said.

“I have only sold two so far, and there have been maybe 2,000 sold all over the world. A lot of homeowners look at them on the site and think they are going to be the size of an umbrella. Then they see a person standing beside them and they realise just how big they are. Put in the right place, it is a good calling card for a business and a lot of businesses use it to advertise their green credentials,” he said.

Electric cars

Harry Ritchie from Queen’s University Belfast brought his DeLorean car to the show and parked it beside two shiny new Tesla electric cars. The car, which was made in Belfast in the 1980s and made famous in the Back to the Future movies, was given a makeover by a team of electrical engineers in the university. Out went the petrol engine and in went a huge electric motor in the boot.

Everything else about the car and its interior is exactly as it was when it rolled off the production line more than 40 years ago.

“The old DeLorean was a very heavy car and could only do around 70mph,” Mr Ritchie said.” I took this to a racetrack in Down last week and I was doing 100mph so on that level, at any rate, it is better.”

The re-imagined car of the future has a range of only 120km compared with the Tesla’s 400km.

“It is a very heavy car and if you were starting from scratch you would not design an electric car this way. If you were starting from scratch you would do what Tesla are doing,” he said nodding over at his rivals.

“I drove one of them [a Tesla] last week. I was up to about 130 miles an hour on the straight. You wouldn’t even know it was moving. It was that silent.

While Teslas are undoubtedly going to be part of the automotive world’s future Mr Ritchie’s DeLorean is likely to see out its days travelling from school to school to show the next generation what can be achieved by a clever engineer with a bit of imagination.