Toulouse Unveils Sunflower Power on the Streets

Toulouse is set to use sunflower power to light the city’s streets as it test-beds a locally manufactured solar energy concentrator. 

Toulouse is betting on a revolutionary rotating solar unit to light the streets. (Credit Marie de Toulouse)

Imitating the sunflower Toulouse’s newest range of solar-powered public street lights follow the sun, absorbing power that makes them independent of the electricity grid whatever the weather.

In what is claimed as a world first, a small family-run Toulouse engineering firm has developed and 
deployed, in collaboration with the municipality, a concept that doubles the amount of power the sunflower solar unit can draw from the sun, even in mid-winter. 

Sunflower street lighting is the brainchild of Cab Innovation, a firm set up in 2000 by André Cabarbaye, an engineer and satellite specialist with the Toulouse-based CNES-Centre national d’études spatiales. Together with his wife, Arlette and his son Aurelian, a recently qualified engineer, the firm developed the prototype,  baptising it  sunflower because it too tracks the sun. 

Toulouse deputy Mayor Alexandre Marciel told this latest innovation is in line with earlier city initiatives that include pavement-pounder-powered street lights, street parking bays that seduce motorists and scented pooping zones that irresistibly attract wayward dogs. 


Toulouse lights street with solar (Credit Marie de Toulouse)


Toulouse – leader among the high-tech cities of France – is currently testing a sunflower-power prototype and financially investing in the concept which it believes could have wider applications.  As the photos show the street lamp is powered by a rotating vertical solar panel, incorporating a high performance mirror surface that effectively turns the unit into a solar concentrator.  The device is rotated by a motor located in the lighting standard. A battery stores and releases the energy produced.

André Cabarbaye told La Dépêche du Midi … “The winter nights here are 15 hours long, the  days offer just 9 hours of light and weather conditions are unfavourable. The challenge is to absorb a lot of energy in a short period of time. This is what we set out to do with the solar concentrator.”

Alexander Marciel for his part welcomed another made-in-Toulouse-innovation: “The council is providing a test bed for the project as well as some financial assistance. We believe the solar concentrator has a promising future. For example it could reduce the current size of solar energy farms.”

The sunflower is being fitted to 20 streetlamps in Toulouse and is completely autonomous drawing no  power from the grid. This makes it ideal for lighting hard to reach areas such as the banks of the Garonne river. The units currently cost €5,000 or twice the cost of conventional lighting standards but savings in electricity are expected to make it economically viable over a period of time.

Story: Ken Pottinger 

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