SunVolt Portable Solar Power Station

I’ve been trying to live off the grid for a while now. I bought land in Cabo San Lucas that I plan to entirely run by solar and wind turbines.

I also use my cellphone a lot. I burn through batteries so quickly, that I only buy phones that use replaceable batteries. My current cellphone is a Samsung Galaxy S3 and I have a 7500 mAh battery (no, that is not a typo) and a fully charged backup 3500 mAh battery that I keep in my pocket.

With my committment to living off the grid, I have tried those little solar cell phone chargers that you can get in China; I have tried the Solio and I have even tried to fabricate my own solar charger. The problem with all of these devices is that the solar panels are so small that to give your phone even a small bump in energy, you have to keep your charger in the sun for a minimum of 6-8 hours.

Enter the Gomadic Sunvolt Solar Power Station and Solar Cache High Capacity Battery Pack. It is an all-in-one solar charger and high capacity battery in its own sturdy carry case. At first, I thought, wow, it is as big as my laptop, and I would never lug that around. True, it’s big, but this is because it contains a large 10 1/2″ x 10″ solar panel. The case acts as a stand so you simply unzip and position the panel to receive optimal sunlight and you’re good to go. The design of this system is really well thought out — the outer pockets of the case hold the battery and every conceivable connection to every conceivable electronic device. Even if your device connection is not included, all you’ll need is a USB cable to your device as the out port on the battery is a standard USB port. Best of all, the power output blasts all of the other solar chargers in the market. It outputs between 8.0 – 14.4 watts (and I understand that they are coming out with a more powerful one).

The solar panels charge a 3400 mAh battery which is good enough to charge my cellphone for a day’s use, although you can hook up your device to be charged directly from the sun.

I recently brought this to Thailand, where it is 100 degrees in the shade, and I found the system to be extremely helpful, especially in the south where modern electronics were sparse. The case is extremely durable and well made. The near-empty battery was fully charged after two hours in the full sun, which is extremely quick. I found that during the day, I would charge the included battery and then at night would use it to replenish my dying cell phone.

The only thing I would wish for is a charging indicator that would confirm me that the panels were getting enough sun and that I have a proper connection to be providing a charge.

-- Alastair Ong  

Gomadic SunVolt High Output Portable Solar Power Station

Solar Cache High Capacity Battery Pack

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Gomadic Corp.

Build It Solar

I think it’s best to leave household solar electricity up to the pros right now. The panels are still expensive, improving every month, and the layout and installation, hookup, etc. are very tricky. (Check out Solar City or SunRun for your home.) But this is also a fine time for DIY-ers to leap ahead. A lot is happening among the maker crowd and the place to keep up with it all is Build It Solar, a free site with a sprawling collection of tutorials, recent projects, experimental results and handy resources. Not just solar, they cover alternative energy sources and conservation was well. The site is pretty well managed, and will follow up with updates on earlier experiments as much as possible.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

$2K Solar Space + Water Heating — One Simple DIY System

These pages describe a very simple solar system that provides both solar space heating and solar water heating in one simple design that you can build.

Using all new, high quality materials, this system can be built for as little as $2000 — about one 1/8th the price of an equivalent commercial system. Nearly all of the materials will be available at your local hardware or lumber yard. The system can be built with simple tools, and with ordinary DIY skills….

The PEX tubes efficiency of the heat transfer from the PEX to the floor is greatly improved by using these heat spreader plates. This means that lower temperature water can be used to transfer the same amount of heat to the floor, and this will make the whole solar system more efficient. The heat spreader plates are homemade and are exactly the same ones I have used in some of my solar collectors…

…So, for the conditions and energy prices assumed the payback period ranges from 2.5 years for propane up to up to 3.4 years for NG. Also bear in mind that you may qualify for some rebates or tax credits, and that as the price of fuel goes up the payback period, return on your investment, and peace of mind all improve.


Bubble Wrap Window Insulation

I’ve used bubble wrap on windows for two three+ years now, and I’m amazed how quick and easy it is. This year, we are even covering the windows in the guest room — we just take the bubble wrap down when guests come, and put it back up when they leave — 15 seconds a window.

This is a simple technique for insulating windows with bubble wrap packing material. Bubble wrap is often used to insulate greenhouse windows in the winter, but it also seems to work fine for windows in the house. You can use it with or without regular or insulating window shades. It also works for windows of irregular shape, which can be difficult to find insulating shades for.

Its been five years since I put this page up, and I’ve heard from MANY people who are quite happy with using bubble wrap for window insulation.

The view through the bubble wrapped window is fuzzy, so don’t use it on windows where you need a clear view. But, it does let plenty of light through.


Cut the bubble wrap to the size of the window pane with scissors.

Spray a film of water on the window using a spray bottle.

Apply the bubble wrap while the window is still wet and press it into place.

The bubble side goes toward the glass.

To remove the bubble wrap, just pull it off starting from a corner. You can save it and use it for several years. It does not leave a mess or stains on the window glass. A few small pieces of double back tape can be helpful on really stubborn windows.

The bubblewrap can be installed in the fall, and removed in the spring. Judging by how mine looks after a year, it may last quite a while.

When you take the bubble wrap down, put a small number in on the upper right corner of each piece of bubble wrap, and write down which window that number goes with on a piece of paper. Save the paper for the installation next fall. This tells you instantly where each sheet goes, and which way its oriented.

Voltaic 3.4 Watt Solar Charger Kit

I’m a solar guy (house generates more electricity than it uses) and have been a fan Voltaic Systems for a while. I’ve had my eye on several of their kits. Back during Hurricane Sandy, they had a special deal: if you sent a kit to their hurricane relief effort, they would give you a second one free. It was just the kick in the pants I needed to pull the trigger. The kit came with an 3.4 Watt panel, a small high capacity USB battery *that will charge an iPhone or iPad Mini or 50% of a big iPad), and a bunch of connectors.

I mounted the panel on the lid of my messenger bag and tucked the battery inside. The panel constantly charges the batter. Now I always have a fully charged spare battery that I never have to think about — the panel keeps it charged 24x7x365. I can go out and about and use the phone without any concern for battery life. And the battery can power or charge anything that uses USB, including LED lights during a storm. I now carry a small lightweight USB light in the bag pocket along with iPhone charging cable.

People ask about the panel all the time. Everyone I explain it to thinks it is extremely cool.

-- Christopher Mirabile  

3.4 Watt Solar Charger Kit
$74 and up, depending on accessories

Available from Amazon