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Solar Powered Computers

2007-09-17 12:54:14.225369+00 by meuon 15 comments

I'm laughing at reports of Solar Powered desktop computers (links to Dell and Lenova and others not included on purpose) because I ran my laptop off of solar for most of my road trip. I've been carrying a milk crate with a deep cycle battery and a couple of 15 watt solar panels for years. Recently, those solar panels ended up on top of Pam and Clem's Casita and I bought 2 new ones for our trailer. Add a deep cycle battery (the trailer now has 2 of them) and poof, mega solar power. Ok, so I'm only pumping 30 watts of solar power, but my laptop only uses 75 watts peak, and I'm not using my laptop all day long, so it works well for me, plus powers my trailers water pump, lights, a radio, etc.. And I can still take one solar panel, battery and inverter off the trailer and setup somewhere else.

Things I have learned about inverters: If you are just powering your laptop that draws just under 100 watts, use a 100 -150 watt constant power UPS (often labeled as 200 or 250 watts peak). Most of those big 500+ 750+ watt ones draw a lot more current to produce 100 watts than a small one, so having a small inverter for small loads, plus a larger one for larger loads can save you a lot of battery time when you just need a little power.

Parts list: Deep Cycle Battery $75. Good inverter $75. 15watt Solar Panel: $75 Milk Crate/battery box: $10 - Useful solar power system: Under $250

Yes, I think it's a great idea, but the use of a solar system is so you can have juice where there is none. Do you need that for desktop computers? Does it need to be a $1300 option? Does it need to be a 100-300 watt solar system using state of the art (but flakey {high end solar panels don't work well if even one cell is shaded}) solar cells?

Rant almost over. Next year I hope to see 50+% efficient solar cells, and much more energy efficient laptops, but more importantly: more efficient home lighting, refrigeration, cooling, heating, etc. And maybe the housing financing crisis will mean less empty nesters buying 4000+sqft Mc-Mansions with 10+ tons (12kbtu/hr = ton) of cooling and heating.

So my laugh of the day: Solar powered desktop computers from Dell, HP and Lenovo. Rant over.

[ related topics: Interactive Drama Invention and Design Bay Area Astronomy Work, productivity and environment Art & Culture Travel Pedal Power Bicycling Real Estate Photovoltaics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-17 14:42:35.731198+00 by: Dan Lyke

So could you get 3 6v gel cells rather than a full 12v stack of cells and skip the inefficiencies of the inverter altogether? There's quite a bit of power conversion happening inside your average laptop, and they should run just fine on 15-18vDC coming straight off the batteries.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-17 16:16:45.924905+00 by: ebradway

One of the few things GM did right with their Hybrid Pickups was to provide 120VAC outlets that draw off the battery pack or use the engine as a generator. Unfortunately, the GMs lack the battery capacity to really help fuel economy. What's needed is a plug-in Prius station-wagon with Lithium-ION batteries and solar panels on the roof to help keep the batteries topped-off while it's parked.

As far as solar-powered computers go, the drive for faster CPUs needs to taper off significantly. It's already started to decline with newer chips boasting more cores rather than higher clock speeds. I still have my fanless VIA Eden - which by most people's standards is a slug but I still find it a capable computer.

And for the McMansions: The Peoples' Republic of Boulder has been mulling zoning limits on square footage. It will be interesting to see how that plays out. I live next to a subdivision of Prairie Mansions - all about 7000 sq ft at about $2M.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-21 02:31:28.100648+00 by: meuon [edit history]

This needs to be it's own post. It's been an insane week: Today I got offered an owner(s) financed, built out, nice (class A or B?) building, w/data center left over from previous tenants, multiple real fiber connections, 66k leasable sqft for $2mil or about $30 per sqft. If the thought of $13-20k per month mortgage payments on top of a volatile downtown Chattanooga, plus nationwide market didn't scare me silly, it'd be the next "Virtual Building".

"Bob": "it needs to be a technology business office building/ technology incubator, you could make it happen.".

Me: "collaborative meatspace is so dead, I'm working well with lots of people from all over the country..who all work from home and coffee shops."

Still, it has my head spinning. He pushed all my dangerous buttons and it's been hard to ignore that and think objectively.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-21 13:08:34.193042+00 by: Dan Lyke

Yes, that does need to be its own post.

Things are moving a bit on the day job, and one of the discussions yesterday morning was about the possibilities of an office. Nobody was terribly enthused.

True, there's a lot about the virtual experience that's lacking, but Chattanooga doesn't seem like the place to start a real office, unless there was going to be actual physical machinery there.

Anyway, I've got lots more rambling on that topic, most of which you've heard before, none of which is as enlightening as it should be.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-21 14:34:57.808967+00 by: Dan Lyke

Or, perhaps the way to rephrase that is: What's the rest of the infrastructure that needs to be put in place to make a technology incubator successful. If the current owners aren't able to make a profit off of their $2M, they don't know, you might, but it probably involves another couple of million and something else that we haven't yet put our fingers on.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-22 03:07:34.205144+00 by: Larry Burton

It would need a machine shop. I've come to the conclusion that regardless of the technology you are working with, if you don't have a way to at least fabricate the prototypes on site you might as well stay at home or the coffee shop and work.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-24 01:08:56.680839+00 by: meuon

Funny, that's part of why there's a small mill, lathe, plasma cutter, oxy-acetylene torch, mig welder, stick welder, drill press.. etc, it my garage. Now if I just had time to play more. It's on my agenda this winter. I did just make and weld "saddles" for my new axle on the springs for the trailer (so the axle does not spin when I hit the brakes) and some storage brackets for under the trailer. Various parts for a bike and sidecar.. And a piece of folk art (a flower?) out of an old computer case. While I seem to have lots of 'free' time, there is never enough to do everything.

Regarding the building: I talked to a property developer friend I trust, he explained the parking issues with the building (it has none) and it's effects, it's not such a great deal in retrospect.

Regarding solar powered computers, etc: This 750 watt inverter is a gem. Just put it into the trailer last week. It has sucky reviews, but I think they have it wired up poorly (using cigerette lighter plugs sucks). I have 6 gauge wire to 2 deep cycle batteries. It draws almost no current over what it outputs, (very efficient) even at lower wattage outputs. You can even run an AM radio off of it, with no noise. My 400 watt inverter makes white noise on nearby radios. I like the displays - it shows input voltage, output voltage and watts used, and the fan only runs as needed. It's overkill for running a laptop in your car, but for running a laptop or more: working well so far.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 01:16:06.009894+00 by: baylink

I believe a ton of AC is actually 6kbtuh...

And threaded comments suck if you're on a blackberry.

That's when they suck

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-25 02:18:06.311594+00 by: meuon

Several websites agree, and I liked this one's range of definitions: http://www.acdirect.com/hvaclingo.php

BTU is an acronym for British Thermal Unit and is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree in one hour. Furnaces are rated by their Btu input capacity. Air conditioners will remove 12,000 Btu's of heat per hour per ton of cooling.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-26 05:37:19.119485+00 by: Larry Burton

Okay, without looking it up, what's a ton of cooling?

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-26 12:47:43.600839+00 by: meuon

12,000 BTU's per hour is "one ton of cooling", but I am guessing you have some more profound relationship to mass and energy that I don't grok.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-26 12:53:58.244451+00 by: Dan Lyke

Larry, I had to look it up. Kind of amazing that that terminology has survived for quite a few decades. Got to be at least half a century.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-26 15:07:04.12549+00 by: ebradway

Wow... This thread sure has meandered...

A technology incubator in Chattanooga needs a different focus than "competing with Silicon Valley". There are things that happen well in the southeast and that's where the focus should be.

Instead of downtown Chattanooga, why not startup in Ringgold? Foster more people like Derek and Flushy. Avoid people trying to compete with Facebook and Google (and credit card processors). Didn't you see more traffic from that bluegrass radio station than just about anyone else at the old Virtual Building?

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-30 03:35:16.298333+00 by: Larry Burton

Meuon, the Tivoli Theater was air conditioned with ice when it first opened as were most other theaters of that era. The manager had a chart that told him how many tons of ice were needed per hour of performance for various audience sizes at various outside temperatures. Therefore a ton of cooling is the amount of cooling that one ton of ice provides in one hour. The manager would order the amount of ice he needed based on estimated audience size and the ambient temperature for that day.

Dan, the terminology has been around for a full century or longer.

#Comment Re: made: 2007-09-30 05:57:27.796411+00 by: meuon

So, a ton of ice has an effective yield of about 12kbtu. Cool. Literally. The logistics of that are boggling me, 2000 lbs of ice in blocks? a block? crushed? Several tons.. Wow. Well, I missed that one (without looking it up). Kudos for the cool HVAC trivia. Sublime, well.. if you used "dry ice".

Eric: It's not a thread, it's Flutterby. "Short attention spans in a world full of..." Hey, look at THAT!