Solar power is important to implement into our lives, as it’s a sustainable way to detach from the grid. I’ve been playing with mobile solar power over the last year, and this month I finally installed a solar panel on my van. It was a bit of a journey, and once it was done, I couldn’t believe it took so long…
Outdoor Retailer at the Salt Palace
I’d read about solar power online for a little over a decade. Being aware and in awe of the technology, I watched prices until they became more affordable. By the time they did, I had no money, having been blacklisted by the bank.
It wasn’t until last year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market that I finally met face-to-face with manufacturers and was able to get some hands on time with solar panels, chargers, and batteries.
I was able to obtain review units from iBattz, Goal Zero, Enerplex, and even a USB power monitor from PowerPot, one of Mark Cuban’s investments from Shark Tank. I also had my second look at Sole Power, the shoe insole that can charge a phone.
Having no previous experience with the technology, I didn’t know what truly differentiated them, so I took the gear on my van-dwelling adventure in the Pacific Northwest.
Small, On-Person Solar Solutions
The Enerplex Packr solar-powered backpack was a great idea, but the shoddy design couldn’t compete with a solar panel tied to my High Sierra Xbox edition. Goal Zero’s solar panels were great, but neither their battery design nor Enerplex could compete with iBattz.
This gave me the ability to recharge my iPhone and Galaxy phone, but I wasn’t able to recharge my laptop. Keeping that beast charged would require a 12V plug, which meant I had to start attaching hardware to the van.
Meeting with Grape Solar
Full of knowledge and with a little solar experience under my belt, I decided to take up the Grape Solar reps on their invitation to meet at their facility in Eugene, OR, right down the street from the cannabis dispensaries I interviewed for Jim Cramer’s Main Street.
I interviewed the Grape Solar staff and engineers to discover the benefits, misconceptions, and pitfalls of mobile solar energy.
Home solar panels are already wired for A/C (alternating current) energy, while auto panels have to be wired for D/C (direct current). This is important to look at when purchasing a mobile solar solution.
In addition, they showed me the latest flexible solar panels and we discussed happenings in the solar industry.
Grape Solar is an end-to-end solar company. Enerplex and Goal Zero are mobile-focused subsidiaries of larger commercial solar companies. Grape Solar’s distribution deals through major retailers like Home Depot and Amazon allow them to compete as a small business against these giants.
Solar panels, like eCigs, drones, and pretty much any new technology, are actually manufactured in Asian countries like China, then imported, branded, and resold by American companies. Grape Solar, I soon learned, had one of the best solar panel import connections in the country.
Installing Solar Panel in the Van
After speaking with these guys, I knew what I had to do – I bought a 100W Grape Solar polycrystalline solar panel, 10 Amp SunForce charge controller, Optima Red Top AGM 12V battery, a 480 watt power inverter, and some cable.
Drilling holes in the top of the van was nerve-wracking at first, but once the first one was done, the rest were a cinch. The cables were practically plug-and-play, and while I was there, I decided to install a cell phone amplifier. Hopefully after CES in January I’ll be able to add a Wi-Fi hotspot and HDTV antenna.
I now have enough power to keep my phones and Asus (pronounced ah-SOOS, not AY-sus) Transformer tablet alive (my laptop died while I was in Tent City). I also have a fan and air filter I can keep running when necessary.
Van-dwelling this year will be much more comfortable and affordable now that I have sustainable electricity to get my work done.
Los Angeles, California and the Electronic Entertainment Expo will be my first chance to field test the new setup. I should have enough power to get me through any situation, unless of course they impound the van first.
Time will tell…
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has been featured on Main Street, Huffington Post, Fast Company, Intuit’s Small Business Resource, and more.