Solar Office rooftop panels

The Solar Office

NEWS - OCTOBER 2020


The Solar Office


with power outages a frequent issue, the author rigs up a solar-powered home office.


By Bill Hensley


The Solar Office rooftop panels

THE WEST COAST HAS BEEN HIT especially hard by fires this year. As the climate warms and dries, the long-term trend does not look positive. The losses from the annual fire season can be staggering, and we all wish the best for everyone affected.

The autumn winds — Diablos to the north, Santa Anas to the south — are a major worry every year, so much so that in high wind events the power utilities shut down large sections of the electrical grid to avoid downed power lines triggering new fires. Last fall, this affected millions of people for multiple days and many of us started thinking seriously about back-up power sources.

Perhaps like most, my wife and I first addressed the question — what do we really need to keep running? The refrigerator? Absolutely. Last year we tossed out a good deal of food, and while it would take a number of outages for a backup power system to pay for itself in lost food, the peace of mind would be an instant win. I wrote about solar capture and residential battery systems in the Spring 2020 issue of Technology Designer Magazine and knew our budget was not going to cover a system of that magnitude for our entire house. So other than the ‘fridge, charge the phones and laptops, and power enough for a couple of lights so we’re not candle-dependent in every room, I decided to come up with my own backup system that should fit my budget.

The Solar Office desktop

solar office outlet

Last year, I MacGyvered a flashlight, mic stand and frosted globe into a traveling room light to augment the candles, but decided not do that again. And we wanted to avoid a gas or propane generator. Something about firing up internal combustion just didn’t feel right.

Fortunately, there were some options at the more “emergency” end of the solar/battery spectrum. While our research was not exhaustive, there were some interesting options. Two brands that got our attention were Goal Zero and Nature’s Generator. After some comparison and a check of what was in stock at the start of fire season, we opted for a Nature’s Generator system including the generator, an extra battery pack, and three solar panels. The system was not quite as DIY as it sounded, but charged up over a sunny day it proved itself by powering up the outdoor lights. We haven’t run the refrigerator on it overnight yet, but it looks like it will easily be up for the challenge.

This experience seemed to me like a service a systems integrator could offer as an add-on, perhaps even powering an accessory dwelling unit or back-yard office. We have neither, but I do work from home. In fact, I now work in a solar powered office from home, typing away on this story at night thanks to today’s sunshine. Solar panels are not small and the roof was too inviting, so I took the panels off their wheel bases, attached them to a frame mounted to the roof, cabled through the attic, down an access closet to the generator in the garage directly below my office. The final step was running some Romex up the wall to a new “solar” outlet in the office. Fortunately, it looks way less MacGyver than it sounds.

 

Of course, if Pacific Gas & Electric does shut off the power, the refrigerator will be the priority.

Mac·Gy·ver
/məˈɡīvər/ Verb, informal

To make or repair (an object) in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand.