|Find out just how great if feels to own a power plant on wheels. Anywhere you choose to roam - in the field or close to home - Hard at work, or having fun... Get Your Power From The Sun!|
|Rockin' Roller Solar|
|by Light Dancing www.rollingsolarsystems.com|
As with all devices - mechanical, electrical, or chemical - a photovoltaic system is only as cost effective and reliable as it's weakest link. In any alternative Energy System, even the most expensive battery bank contains the systems weakest links - the batteries. The one exception to this rule is a frequently used generator. A generator, with it's many moving parts, comes at a price much higher than the tag it carries in the store. Regular use results in too much friction, wasted heat and pollution, which means higher fuel and maintenance costs that only increase with time. That's why I have never regretted, for a moment, completely omitting a generator from my home power system. I really don't want or need one for anything I use. I still have ample electricity for all my power tools, appliances, large computer & TV, and two dozen other electronic gadgets. In most parts of the US, a well designed and well insulated passive solar home doesn't need air conditioning, even in the hottest days of summer. In fact, I can think of only one circumstance in which I might want a generator. That would be for the air conditioner in my motor home. For such infrequent summer use, a small, super-quiet Honda Generator would give me reliable service, with minimal maintenance, for many years.
So, instead, I spent my "gas generator money" on the best batteries, solar panels, charge controller, inverter, and peripheral components I could find. I wanted a well designed and properly installed solar system that I could count on for many many years to come. And since I needed to extend the life of my battery bank for as many years as possible, I put a great deal of time, thought, and research into selecting the right kind, size, connections, and location for those batteries. I consulted as many real experts, with personal experience in this field as I could find. I asked a whole lot of questions, and compared notes before making each decision. These decisions ultimately included selecting a Maximum Power Point charge controller - capable of protecting and extending the life of my batteries - and a TriMetric 2020 Meter, to conveniently monitor the batteries in ways that no charge controller I currently know about can do. As well, the optimum ratio of Solar panels to batteries, for my system, was an especially critical part of the decision making process.
But once my new system was up and running beautifully for a couple of years, I realized that I wanted something else. I wanted to have my cake and haul it too! I wanted to travel, and take my power with me. I wanted plenty of electricity, for all my electronic toys and necessities, but I wanted real mobility as well. And I didn't want to rely on that noisy, polluting, gas guzzling, high-maintenance piece of equipment known as a generator to supply it. So, one day, I sat down with a drawing program on my Mac and began designing some solar systems on wheels. The last time I had seen any sort of portable power system (even a picture of one) was back in 1978, at an out door rock concert. It really WoWed me! That was my original inspiration for "going solar" some years later. But the one I wanted to build should be a lot more powerful, efficient, and reliable.
So, I thought to myself. This thing needs to have a whole lot of the glass-free UniSolar Panels I have come to know and love, so they can't be destroyed (the way my car windshield was) by flying gravel flipped up by a passing truck. It also needs a sealed inverter, impervious to dust and moisture... and, of course, a very large bank of nearly indestructible, truly maintenance-free batteries, to store my high demand for silent power. Many versions of this thing came and went on my drawing program. Eventually, built a small 8 ft. prototype on a used boat trailer. I liked the design so much that I soon built the one in the photograph on a modified 16 ft trailer with 3 times the power capacity. I guess that's when it really hit me that I had created something other people might want as well. I called it my Rockin'Roller Solar System™, in honor of that solar trailer I saw at the outdoor concert so many years ago.
Considering, now, the future of solar energy, I realize that - for many sedentary families, with, so called reliable land lines already hooked up to the grid - portable solar may have little or no appeal. But, what about the rest of us? What about Snow Birds - retired travelers who like to crank up their motor homes each year and go on new adventures? Don't they get tired of noisy generators, not to mention the constant expense and hassle of buying, repairing, and filling them with gas time after time? Next I thought of families who want to electrify remote vacation cabins, for seasonal use, without the fear of having their system stolen while they're away. I know a guy who had his so-called "secure and stationary system" completely dismantled and hauled off while he was on vacation. That made me realize that I'd feel much safer with a portable array that I could lock and chain securely to my bumper on the road, then later chain it to concrete pillars buried underground at my home. It also hit me that an imbedded alarm and a satellite tracking device, hidden randomly inside the power center, would make it dangerous for any thief to steal, as well as easier for authorities to recover if someone was foolish enough to take it.
In my area (getting back to the advantages) there are many new land owners of remote property with no available power lines, needing an immediate power supply for their mobile homes. By buying undeveloped land (with no utility lines) and a used mobile home, they can easily save enough cash to purchase solar power in the bargain, thereby staying completely off the grid. A mobile solar system would give them instant electricity and a lot more flexibility as well. I also considered occupational needs, such as geology and archeology crews, and other field researchers who camp and work in remote areas for extended periods of time. Also, what about emergency medical or evacuation teams that travel to disaster areas where electric lines have been destroyed or never existed? Wouldn't they all benefit immeasurably from a silent portable power supply? Even contractors, who often build homes on remote properties without power lines, might be a little tired of noisy generators for their power. Then there is always the true solar enthusiast who also remodels homes for a living, living in them for a few years, then putting them back on the market. Wouldn't he or she be more likely to invest in solar now, knowing they could take their power with them when they move? There has always been a need for solar power. Just consider the endless possibilities! As an artist, I love the tranquility of being close to nature. Part of my inspiration comes from spending a lot of time in undeveloped areas. On a solar tour that I took recently, I met some progressive thinking home owners, in a nearby town, where power lines already existed. Yet, when they built their new home, they installed a 1500 watt solar system too. When asked why, they said they wanted to sell the excess power back to the utility company, while having the security of knowing that - when the next power outage comes - their frozen foods wont spoil, their pipes won't freeze for lack of electric heat tape to protect them, and they'd have uninterrupted electricity through it all. These folks were really planning for the future. So, I was thinking, why not take that planning one step further? Imagine if their system was also portable. That way, when the town finally gets too crowded and noisy for them, and they simply want to sell the place and move on, they could just hitch up their personal portable photovoltaic power plant and move on to the next place of their choosing.
Unquestionably, a large solar system is a large investment. None the less, many people who would like to make the investment find that their temporary living circumstances aren't conducive to that expenditure. Real portability could change all that for most of us. And though it is a big undertaking, a solar system doesn't depreciate the way, for example, a new car does. In fact, if well designed and installed, it will usually appreciate. Most solar panels, for example are warranted for 20+ years, but usually well outlast those warrantees... especially if they're glass-free. Show me a car that can go so long without repairing or replacing almost every part that's in it. Moving parts, moving parts, a photovoltaic system has almost no moving parts to wear out from friction or abuse.
I also couldn't help but notice that, within the past 2 years, the cost of quality deep cycle batteries has dramatically increased, allegedly due to the increase in the cost of elements like lead and copper. What will the price of a new solar system be 5 years from now, not to mention 20? The average deep cycle battery is worn out 4 to 5 years. Concorde, on the other hand, makes truly maintenance-free batteries that last 2 to 3 times that long, and out performs the others in the bargain. A great investment. In short, If you really do the research, and the math, you will find that solar energy, over the long term, is actually very cost affective.
Today, ever growing numbers of families and individuals want the increased personal freedom of getting off the grid... freedom from power outages and monthly electric bills. We want to own an independent source for our electricity... as well as to travel frequently, spending more time in the peaceful countryside, where fresh air and sunshine are plentiful and uninvited guests are few and far between. Also, keep in mind that you don't have to start out with a system as large as the one pictured here. You can always ad more panels and a secondary battery bank later on.
You don't have to be a Rockin' Roller to appreciate a little solar.... Hard at work, or having fun... Get Your Power From The Sun!