First off I need to get one pet peeve off my chest. Solar power is not inherently green. I get a good laugh when I read that someone has festooned a couple tiny solar panels on their bike so they can run 7 unnecessary gadgets and then claims one of the benefits is reduced environmental impact. Typically the accompanying photo shows their bike parked outside a connivence store where they stopped for lunch or a snack break.
If you want to be green as a priority:
- rid yourself of all the gadgets that you upgrade/use like they were chunks of crack cocaine
- including the inefficient mini-solar panels
- use the power that comes out of the plugs all along your route to power the stuff you really need
- on an incremental impact basis the power for your devices is much greener from the grid than those tiny solar panels
- have one less kid…lol…I’m only partially joking, but that’s material for another post
I’m not saying solar can’t be green…it just isn’t green on the scale of one tiny panel used to power an iPad when there is a large scale electrical grid 2′ away. You can certainly build large scale solar power plants that make sense environmentally. Trying to put solar panels on individual homes I’m not sure about, but I’m willing to give that level of solar project the benefit of the doubt. I’m not 100% sure it makes sense – worth a close look. Patagonia put solar panels over their whole parking lot and only manage to supply 10% of the power their HQ needs.
My feeling is that we need to pool our resources to work on:
- making existing power plants cleaner [fossil fuels are not going anywhere for a long long time]
- start developing green power options on a large scale so they are cost efficient and environmental impact efficient
- take a hard look at smaller power generating situations [ie. small hydroelectric] and determine when it makes sense and when it’s just a “feel good” move
Let me reiterate buying a 2′ x 1′ solar panel at REI is bad for the environment. The toxic materials used to make it, the transportation cost and the fact you’ll probably buy two more gadgets so you can charge their batteries in your driveway to impress you friends all add up to a bad move for the environment. If you want to be green start by reducing the stuff you consume and then reducing the impact of the stuff you consume [such as buying locally grown produce].
You may be thinking what a hypocrite I am given that my blog talks mostly about unnecessary stuff and doing unnecessary things. I’d agree with you whole heartedly if I made lots of green claims about my lifestyle. I don’t ride bikes because it’s good for the planet. I ride bikes because I like doing that and it’s good for me. Just so you don’t think I am some planet hating prick I should note that I actually do have what I consider a sensible green lifestyle plan.
My green plan:
- as a baseline I use the average middle class family in Canada’s environmental impact
- my goal is to keep my total lifecycle impacts below that baseline
- I balance my driving on long trips off against using bikes to get around town
- I don’t buy a lot of the typical consumer goods other folks do like – furniture, TVs, fashion clothes, big houses,etc…
- I use the energy/impact reduction to buy bikes and my outdoors gear
- gear I don’t use enough I sell so it can be fully utilized by someone else
- I spend a lot of time outdoors so I can actually gauge what’s happening in natural spaces
- I spend a lot of time outdoors so I care about damage to the environment more than a typical city dweller who takes one weekend camping trip a year
- I am choosing not to have kids – although I do have a cat, but she’s not breeding either…=-)
- I try to enjoy as much of the moments in my life as well as I can so that their inherent environmental impacts are at least well spent
Okay the funny thing that was just the preamble to what I wanted to post about…=-)
I’m keen on getting a portable solar setup together so that when I am working or camping away from the power grid I can run a laptop, stereo, fridge and lights. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but the cost and complexity has been putting me off. As this Baja trip approached I wanted to go solar again since that was a major drag for me last year. I had to keep hunting for power to run my laptop. Since I was working on that trip like I will be on this trip [don’t let the beach front tent fool you this is no holiday] I need to use at least one charge of the laptop per day and sometimes two. Hiking around town begging for power gets old fast.
Unfortunately December has been busy with many work and fun things which has meant no progress on the solar front. Wanting to make something positive happen I decided to buy a 75 amp hr deep cycle marine battery plus charger. I have a small 1KW Honda generator from work. So for this trip I’ll bring those items along and use the generator once a week to recharge the marine battery. That shouldn’t piss off anyone I’m camped near too much since it’s a very quiet generator and will only have to run for a few hours a week. If grid power is not too inconvenient I may also skip the generator and find someplace to plug in my battery & charger once a week. I’m willing to drink 6 beers in a bar if that’s what it takes to get more efficient cleaner power…=-)
My next move will be to get a truck portable solar pannel with stand and charging circuitry that I can hook up to my marine battery. After that I need a high efficiency 12V fridge I can use while camping. Not those cooltronic coolers, but an actual keep stuff frosty fridge. I’ve seen them in Baja, but I need to track them make and model down.
So if you have any suggestions for:
- a high efficiency truck portable solar panel
- a robust stand I can put it on and angle towards sun
- high efficiency electronics to get from panel to battery and keep it charged
- a high efficiency fridge
I’m hoping the 75 amp hour battery will be enough for my needs, but it won’t be hard to tell if it isn’t. I also don’t know how much power I need on an average day from the panel to keep my battery charged enough to deal with my power use. Given that 5′ x 2′ is probably as big a panel as I can cope with I’ll just get the best producing one I can afford and see what happens.
BTW – just so we are clear I am not suggesting in any way that using a laptop in the forest while listening to my iPod played over a stereo all run from a solar panel is green. It’s not, but it’s convenient and I like it!