If you drive along Highway 9 in Silverthorne this summer, you might notice something new being built: a solar demonstration garden.
At a regular meeting Wednesday, May 16, the town council approved a free three-year lease of a quarter-acre of land to Silverthorne resident Fin Doyle and his start-up company Sulas Industries.
Doyle, a mechanical engineer who owns the snowboard gear manufacturer Bomber Industries, plans to break ground in the next few weeks on a project at least two years in the works.
Inspired by heliotropism found in nature, he designed a new way of helping solar panels track the sun, making them more cost- and energy-efficient.
“Mother Nature does it without computers. Why can’t we?” he said. “This is exactly how flowers do it. We just mechanized it.”
Last summer he built a model of the tracker, called the HelioDrive, on the roof of Bomber Industries. The technology works great, he said, but now he’s reached the limits of his roof. It won’t support the weight of a large solar panel, so he wants to test and validate the new technology on the ground.
Doyle said he approached the town government and pitched the idea of leasing land for the project four or five times. He quickly gained the support of the town’s Economic Development Advisory Committee.
“They loved it. They freaked out,” he said.
Silverthorne’s town manager, Ryan Hyland, said the town’s SPORT committee (Silverthorne Parks, Open Space, Recreation and Trails), the planning commission and the town council all were supportive. He said they saw an opportunity to play the role of a business incubator and wanted to encourage economic development and renewable energy.
“It’s kind of a win-win for us,” he said. “We’re excited about that.”
The town chose a site between Highway 9 and the parking lot of the North Pond Park, next to the elementary school, and will provide access to the utility grid and wireless internet.
The solar garden will power the park and produce 5 to 10 percent more energy than what the park uses, which will go back to the grid.
Doyle will use Wi-Fi to monitor the device and might set up a camera so the public can check it out online. He said he’d be happy to give tours to the students going to school across the street or to any other educational groups.
So far, Doyle said, he’s spent about $70,000 on the project, mostly for legal consulting involved in obtaining a patent, which was approved earlier this month.
He has had help from a handful of partners and other companies, including the Golden-based renewable energy contractor New Energy Structures Co.
Ty Searl, the company’s CEO and a Silverthorne resident, said the company will donate labor and equipment to the project.
“It is pretty revolutionary,” Searl said of the technology. And, he added, “to be coming out of Silverthorne is kind of unique.”
Doyle hopes to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completed project in early fall. After that he will approach investors and start talking about sales.