simon plug and play module

How to get ready for plug and play solar power

Plug and play solar helps you run your most needed appliances like mobile phones, computers, fridges or coffee machines. You can place them on a balcony, terrace or garden. Before collecting your own energy with a plug and play solar system yourself always consider what you want to do with your freshly harvested energy.

Plug and play solar power starts with small steps

Not long ago I was able to talk to a former astronaut. He seemed to be skeptical about solar power although he owns a rooftop solar installation himself. He was not able to get off-grid with his entire house.

Moving all your existing home appliances to solar power at once is expensive. It is like trying to watch a DVD on an old fashioned VCR. Many appliances were built for the old fashioned hard wired electricity infrastructure. Solar power will help you with most appliances out there. But not all of them are compatible with solar power.

First, try to power one single appliance. I started with powering my mobile phone, then a computer and then a light. I can take those appliances off grid now. A fridge will be one of the next to try.

Use appliances with integrated batteries

It is no coincidence that appliances like smart phones and laptops already work great together with solar power. They have integrated batteries. We are used to keep an eye on the battery level all the time. When you think about it, a fridge has an integrated battery as well. It can store the cold for several hours.

When buying appliances for the future, consider choosing appliances with integrated battery. You can charge them in times when there is enough sunshine. Drillers, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, speakers and much more stuff already uses batteries.

wireless vacuum

Bosch Athlet wireless vacuum cleaner with integrated battery is ready for plug and play solar power

Get a feeling for peak power

Don’t worry. You don’t need to be a graduate from a technical university to understand the basics for electricity. Just try to keep in mind, that your appliances require different peak powers.

Boiling water needs a lot of energy in a short time. Water heaters therefore need a lot of power of around 1.000 to 2.000 Watts for a few minutes. To fully charge your smart phone, little power is needed but it takes much longer. Smart phone chargers require around 5 to 15 Watt for hours. There is a huge difference between these numbers. Although their peak powers and minutes in use differ vastly, charging a phone and making a cup of coffee almost uses the same amount of energy.

Appliances usually have power specifications printed on to them. Try to find the power specifications of your favorite appliances and compare them to each other. Which one has the highest power rating?

Bosch driller

Bosch Athlet wireless vacuum cleaner with integrated battery is ready for plug and play solar power

Power meter

Solar powered startup challenge

While setting up a new company that will bring solar power to any place worldwide to my brother and me it seemed obvious, that the company itself should run on solar power as much as possible.

Currently I am using a few sources of electricity for my home office. Hydro and wind power from the oekostrom AG that comes from the public grid. And some power from solar modules hanging on my balcony that feed in to my home office grid during the day.

Soon, I will add power from the base to my home office. My base is a prototype for the product that we will promote in the near future. A base is  a power source in a box that I will place in a corner of our living room. It will be equipped with a regular power socket for connecting my appliances and with a socket for connecting solar modules to charge it. With my base I want to power

  • a lamp that helps me work through nights,
  • my smartphone that I use for several hours every day,
  • my tablet that I sometimes use for research and presentations
  • and my laptop that I use for office stuff like writing this blog post.

Until my base is available to me I will prepare my home office for it by re-organizing some space. First I separated the appliances listed above and moved them to a corner. Then I attached low budget plugin power meters to measure the energy that I use for my startup and the energy that I already produce myself with solar modules on my balcony.

It will take some time to collect more data on solar production and home office consumption. Data on how production and consumption match, when they match and how energy storage could be used to help do the job. To begin with I will be able to get the total energy production and consumption data for a time period. Of course it would be great to have this data in real time and in a log file to further process it. But somehow from all the tools out there that I came along, none of them seem to do the job I need.

After running the setup for 48 hours I already noticed that either I use to much power for my home office or I find a way to increase the sun power I can bring into my apartment. One of the next tasks will be to install a third solar module as soon as possible to help me get through the winter. Where I live, daytime is getting shorter.

Nuclear power for a light bulb?

On conferences or in meetings, energy experts sometimes tell me that it is impossible to run a power system with only renewable energy, because renewable energy is not able to provide baseload for power grids. Of course many other experts have already countered this argument in several ways. It requires some knowledge on grids to either agree with one side or the other.

Usually, in a power grid there are a lot of consumers in all different sizes like lights, computers, machines, etc. A subway uses more power than a laptop. Appliances are switched on and off at different times. Grid operators therefore try to sum up all the energy need from all the appliances to estimate the total demand in their grid. Then they try to satisfy that need with all kinds of power plants. Their special challenge is to provide exactly the amount of power that is needed to fulfill the demand. Not more and not less. Otherwise they will face major issues. Production of all power plants must match the consumption of all appliances at every point in time.

When we look at the total demand in a large power grid, usually there is always someone and something that uses energy. So there is some sort of minimum power consumption the whole time. In conventional energy supply, there are usually baseload plants which run 24 hours a day and there are peakload plants which are started during daytime. During the day people are awake and use more power at work and at home than during night. Experts often discuss if and how solar and wind power are able to replace baseload plants.

But does it make sense to think in the same vocabulary and theory that helped cause the problem? Why are we looking for a solution to a problem, that is specific to conventional energy supply? Can we look at the whole thing a little bit more out of the box?

Lets put the discussion into a different perspective. On Wikipedia we find a definition for base energy.

Base load power sources are power stations which can consistently generate the electrical power needed to satisfy minimum demand.

First things conventional experts think of are coal or nuclear plants. But we could also consider the needed power for a light bulb as minimum demand. Or for smart phones, fridges and computers. Those appliances do only need little power to operate and still give us outstanding value. Light is especially great. It is like an artificial sun that helps us being safe and productive.

When looking at base energy from another perspective, it becomes clear that we do not need nuclear power plants to run light bulbs and smart phones. Solar power is a smart, easy and low cost way to cover our minimum demand.


Electrify from scratch

Once, someone compared an organisation with a tree. It has roots, stem, branches and leaves. We discussed what new ideas, projects or changes meant to an organisation. Are those actions like leaves, which might grow for some time and eventually fall off again? Are they branches which stay over winter but are still attached to the same roots? Or do we seed new plants in new environments to create new amazing opportunities?

When I look at how the energy system works it sometimes feels like that those wind mills and solar power plants that we built in the past decades are branches and leaves on an old tree whose roots are terribly sick. We still use the same power grid, although renewable strengths lie within decentralized structures. We still use the same market rules to calculate energy prices and their value for our daily life. When someone switches on a light in a living room, the energy for that light still travels through thousands of kilometers of copper wires from a central plant to the light bulb.

What if the wire between the power plant and your light shrinks to a few meters? What if you can generate your own electricity? What if you make yourself independent from organisations you were stuck with for so long? This opens completely new paths on how to organize daily life with family, friends and colleagues.

We are working on a new base to help people create and maintain comfortable places anywhere in the world. Even on Mars.

To be continued…