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Running on Sunlight

by Dean Whitlock for Here in Hanover Magazine, fall 2023

When Tim Briglin and Laurel Macklin installed a Solaflect solar tracker in their back field in 2013, Tim admits he was a bit anxious. They wanted to upgrade the energy profile of their Thetford Center home by adding solar panels, but Tim’s research revealed that the roofs on their house and barns weren’t well oriented for solar power, and their uneven, ledgy back field was impractical for a ground- based solar grid. On the advice of his business partner, Tim took a look at Solaflect.

Solaflect ev chargerFOLLOW THE SUN

Founded in 2007, the Norwich-based company offers a solar tracker that follows the sun through its arc each day, using a single rectangle of 16 panels mounted on a tall pole. Two features make the Solaflect tracker unique: a pair of motors allows it to pivot both east to west and north to south, always aiming directly at the sun; and a suspension bridge–like system supports the solar array with high-tension cables attached to a central brace.

A Solaflect tracker’s accurate aim produces 40 percent more power per panel than a ground or roof-mounted array, while the suspension system requires much less steel, making the tracker less costly. A “smart machine,” it stows table-top flat in high winds and “sleeps” vertically at night to shed snow and ice. To date, Solaflect has installed over 1,200 trackers across northern New England, providing 40 million-plus hours of operation. But in 2013, Tim says, “it was still new-fangled technology.”

Still, a Solaflect tracker could easily fit into their back field and would supply 30 to 40 percent of their home’s electrical needs. They went ahead with the project, and five years later, when Tim decided to buy a fully electric car, or EV, adding a second Solaflect tracker “was a no- brainer.” Two trackers provided more than enough power to charge the EV and meet their home’s electrical needs.


charging a solaflect ev

It was a prophetic decision. Tim was one of the first Vermont state repre- sentatives who needed to top off the charge in an EV while at work. The statehouse installed two chargers, and the EV-owning legislators set up a Listserv to keep track of who got to use which charger when, a necessity as the number of EV users grew.

That trend, reports Solaflect COO Rob Adams, has become a worldwide phenomenon, with the number of EVs doubling every year. A recent tally by Drive Electric Vermont (drive recorded “8,875 and counting.” Doubling every year yields 71,000 EVs in Vermont in just three years.

Unfortunately, Rob says, new EV charging stations are not keeping pace, but Tim’s experience at the statehouse illustrates the best way to meet the demand: charging stations at work.

Already, forward-thinking local employers like Hypertherm and Dartmouth College have installed chargers in their parking lots, despite deterrents to installation that force them to ration their use. Employees must sign up, be assigned to chargers for set periods, and pay use fees and fines for not moving their cars when their turn is up. There are even dark tales of employers towing employees’ cars.

Other deterrents include permitting, trenching through parking lots, utility infrastructure upgrades, electrical hookups—all expensive—plus “demand charges” from utilities, because these grid-tied EV chargers are used almost entirely during high-demand periods. And do it again every few years to keep up with the annual doubling of EVs.

Addressing the need, Solaflect has just launched an EV charging system that costs less to install and operate and provides truly clean energy. Using a standard Solaflect tracker mounted on a redesigned concrete base, their EV charger sits right on the existing lines of a parking lot at the intersection of four parking spaces. Attached to the base are four Level 2 EV chargers: no permits required, no trenches, cables, or hookups, and no utility costs or charges, because the tracker is not attached to the grid. One Solaflect EV Charger will provide up to 10,000 miles of EV charging per year for each of four EVs, close to the annual mile- age of an average driver.


The Solaflect EV Charger depends on sunlight, so is designed as an employer-provided, workday “topping-off ” solution. Like any vehicle, Rob points out, EVs don’t need a full charge. Although studies show most EV owners, like Tim, are “range anxious” and will top off their batteries whenever they can, the studies also show that EV drivers keep their batteries at 50 percent to 80 percent of full charge. For most commuters that’s plenty. It also motivates employees to urge employers to pro- vide EV chargers. Solaflect chargers, with their lack of utility grid fees and lower lease model costs, will make it easier for companies to offer EV charging as an employee benefit.

That trend, reports Solaflect COO Rob Adams, has become a worldwide phenomenon, with the number of EVs doubling every year. A recent tally by Drive Electric Vermont (drive recorded “8,875 and counting.” Doubling every year yields 71,000 EVs in Vermont in just three years. 

Fees, if any, will be up to each employer, but even with a nominal surcharge, EV charging is much cheaper than buying gasoline.

And it will be clean energy. Though power companies now source about 5 percent of grid energy from solar and wind, it’s an unfortunate truth that 50 percent of grid energy comes from burning natural gas, while the remainder comes from large dams and nuclear plants.

Dartmouth has already signed on to install the first Solar EV Charger, and other colleges, companies, hospitals, and more are in final negotiations. Many are large employers that had the foresight to install on-grid charging systems early but are now looking forward for easier, cleaner, cheaper, and less disruptive ways to expand the service. Given the current growth rate in EV ownership, employers big and small will be faced with this need very soon.

Hopefully, like Tim, they’ll discover that installing Solaflect trackers specifi- cally for EV charging is a no-brainer.

This story was originally published in Here in Hanover Magazine's Fall 2023 edition