Archived Story

Mobile solar arrays invented by local women’s father

Published 10:48am Friday, June 24, 2011
Madison resident Jennifer Willoughby’s father, Don V. Merrifield, designed the new folding solar arrays for solar powered generators that NASA is building. This was one of the first uses of the new folding solar arrays Merrifield Engineering came up with.

Merrifield says because the arrays are foldable, they are very small and compact. Merrifield said the generators were created for emergencies, such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

Don Merrifield designed the new solar arrays for NASA.

“I think mobile solar power generators are going to continue to catch on. I think we will start seeing more and more uses of solar energy because they reduce fuel logistics,” Merrifield said.

Merrifield said the new solar power generators unfold to create a support truss beneath the panels. He said the panels can be stored in a small space and easily transported.

Merrifield has an advanced degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville and completed his thesis on solar energy. He worked for aerospace contractors in Huntsville and in 2002 founded an engineering firm in Smyrna, Tenn.

Willoughby remembers when her father began creating inventions in the early seventies. She said she loved helping her father or watching her father create something new. She said he always turned it into a learning moment for her.

“Those are precious moments to a kid, when they get a technical explanation that lets them feel like that grown-up believes that they can really understand it.   And most of the time we did understand what he explained, because he has the heart of a teacher.”

Along with the new foldable solar arrays for disaster relief, Merrifield’s company is working on developing mobile solar-powered electric vehicle charging systems.

“My company’s overall mission is to contribute new technologies that can directly or indirectly be beneficial to humanitarian and national needs,” Merrifield said. “We want to help people and our nation.”

Willoughby said that no matter what, her father always made time for his family throughout his works. She said she really admires her father’s compassion and accomplishments.

“The motivation for what he does stems out of a love for other people,” Willoughby said. “That’s one reason I look up to him so much… because when he thinks of something, he hopes to make someone else’s life better.”

For more information, please visit or email Merrifield at

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