Tuesday 12 March 2019

Going solar by parts - offset what you can -homeworking remotely; remote working

Why offset some things solar?

The GoalZero Nomad 14 Plus will keep a Macbook 12", a MiFi and a SmartPhone working  all  day in good sunlight
So let’s start with a couple of things this article is and this article isn’t. One this article is not how to live off grid; I would love an off-grid eco home, but I live in Central London and that is not going to happen. This article also ins’t supposed to give you any idea that I am feeling like greenwashing prius driving let’s jump on the solar bandwaggon on the cheap or whatever criticism may be waiting. Its also not a zombie apocalypse guide to ... 
Using preferably the largest battery you are allowed to get on a plane makes the best  storage option on the move

Can I now justify buying some solar gadgets?

Yes. In short. Great right? You are welcome! What it is is an article on how we can all learn to be more power efficient, see where we are and are not using power and provide a basis for how we can all move slowly more and more to offloading to renewable sources and decide whether or not we can change our ways or not to remove the things that are very “power hungry” and work out what balance you may or may want, or be able to afford or accommodate in your life.
The 14W panel managed a brief peak of 17W, all monitored from the great display on the Sherpa 100AC

Why I wanted to write this and why we should all have some solar generation.

Why did I want to do this / do I think this important, well mainly because at the same time I saw both an add for an energy company promoting natural Gas, while a committee recommended getting rid of gas from homes by 2025, presumably under the view that we can all run full heating and cooing and everything else under solar. And of course you can - but a few things need to be said: you need to plan / be lucky and have a south facing window (in northern hemisphere at least) and having a car with a both a sunroof and panoramic glass roof was great for seeing the panel's position and adjusting as the day went on. There is also a lot of faff or attention needed to keep everything in the sun and every so often check that things have not just stopped after a cloud went over, or the wind blew the panel shut... let alone see the video below when the wind blows things 6 storeys down to the concrete floor below! Then there is the luck of the weather! But even without sun, the battery below should keep you going well enough - you will just need to charge it another way afterwards!
By using the first and last rays of sun back at hotel  I could fully power the USB-C laptop, phone and MiFi all usage 
By using the first and last rays of the day, and leaving the panel out of the sun-roof while off for a run, etc. It was possible to fully power the usb-c laptop (USB-C important as if I was using the AC inverter I would have need 30-50% more solar power - possible daisy chaining two Nomad 14 plus or  using the more cumbersome 28 plus, but no where near as easy to just hang out of the window or pop-ip on a roof) however doing so left me very, very tight on one of the days. Another day I was glad I did not squeeze every last drop, as I ended up inevitably working late...

Click to see the video showing the average power being used over a the various use cases (charging vs. running the laptop, and just running peripherals) as well one of the perils of perching devices on window sills and what happens when your wifi falls 6 stories onto a solid concrete floor... 

There is a final angle and that is wellbeing. More and more we are either tied to an office or a home office. I often work all day with the good intention of getting out and doing some sport and doing my 10,000 or whatever steps, but it often does not happen, and this is where home and personal life can suffer. 
Working from here all day is a lot nicer than a desk, and if you go dressed for a run, walk, etc. promotes exercise as well
The solar in this review easily lets you get out and working remotely, wherever you may need to be within a reasonable budget and in a portable manner.

Another inspiring view from the office; this one came with full 4G fast data coverage!
The alternative I saw for equipping a single vehicle with the ability to work were just way too complex, expensive and really not for me as I cannot easily use it in a hire car for example as in the below experiment.
Back in British winter you need to choose days more wisely and rely on the battery more :)

The short list. Yes gadget time :)

Being able to see the devices is key, but hard if you are not near a Rei or similar / travel to the US, etc. to see 1st hand
What is really imporant is to get out and see things, this is one of the biggest barriers to going solar - I see all these amazing products online, but is very difficult to get  a fewel for how big they really are, for example the Sherpa 100AC and the Nomad 400 Lithium, I was lucky enough to see in the wonderful Rei shop in Seattle between meetings on a business trip, and realise for example that the latter would easily fit in the bayyert box of a land rover defender alongside the main battery.

Similarly I quickly saw that the Boulder was huge, but at the same time saw another opportunity here, and will be updating on that later.

What other gadgets were considered.

The 20,000 to 28,000 mah batteries and The Sherpa 100AC

There are lots of these batteries, I already own a few of these, from the one that came with my G-Ro luggage, that goes nowhere due to a proprietary charger, to a usb-c Anker 20,000, a RavPower 28,000, and a tp-link 21000, but none have the digital display, nor the wireless charging, nor the built-in battery holder or the rubber non-slip on hardwearing metal nor a simple AC power that can charge my drone... in short, the Goalzero is very expensive but does everything I need, and even sits on my bedside table doing daily and nightly phone charging.

Yeti 150 and 400 Gel

Too big and cannot bring myself to buy lead anymore

The yeti 400 Lithium

This was an option, but you cannot take it on planes, but it does fit into the battery box of my Land Rover defender, so more on this coming soon.

The nomad 14+ and nomad 28 plus

The nomad 28 plus is very appealing as it sits between the 14 and the 50 watt options, and would potentially make a better option in weaker sunlight / enable more devices, however the simple problem is size and convenience.

The boulder 50

Having seen (above) in Rei that the Boulder was huge, I went with the Nomad 14 plus, but at the same time saw another opportunity here, and will be updating on that later.

The others that were cheaper and ...

I already have the Anker solar lite, which is great, however its just not as easy to hang /stand and is just slightly underpowered, although there are times in weak lite that it will deliver 3w whereas the goal zero is not even registering a watt...

The background and why?

Self driving cars are coming, they cost a lot of money, to just sit in jams and car parks?

We spend so much on our cars and we covet them so much, yet all we do is sit in traffic and get bigger and bigger ones, which at some point will be self-driving; let us aspire to more freedom, when in fact they just languish in traffic and parked most of the time, or accumulate tickets otherwise. Set them free I say.

What if our home is not work from home friendly?

Part of this experiment ocurred to me whe I was working a few days a week on a client site so dull, so uninspiring, that I honestly often needed to retire to the cafe, a local starbucks, or often my car on sunny days to escape the sheer unpleastenness of the environment. It was fetid. It also occurred to me that many people may only have that option, or may be in shared or other accommodation that is just not work from home friendly, yet more and more we are expected to work from home.

Sometimes you get a new dog, a new child, people staying over, in short a new circumstance that can make certain times of the day / week / month / year - can we work from our car?

Do more exercise, get out more

While I do have the fortune and luxury of working form home in an environment that is conducive to that and it is great, what happens when everybody comes home and kicks back and you have been caged up all day… well you can be a little grumpy: and the answer is do work from home but get out there, get that lycra on, get o it and between those call get a run, a walk, a coffee and a chat with your old parents, and old friend, etc. It will be good for your mental health, it will be good for the people who have to put up with you. You are also more likely to get out on that trail, hike, ride if you are seeing people out there, vs. coupes up at home. The amount of times I have been working at home, dressed ready for my run / ride when planned, but then not bothered is too many to count.

Laptops already have all day battery don't they? Doesn't your car have a battery?

So I hear you all say: my laptop has “all day battery” and so does my phone… why do I need this. Well, yes, maybe it does, when its new, and you do a bit of this and a bit of that. But on that day of back to back calls, when your device is a little older, the last update did not go so well, etc, etc. and in general other than in ideal circumstances the answer is; no they do not. and do you want to be where you want to remote work and have no car battery to get home / pick the kids up, make that meeting, etc? No, did not think so either!

There is then the issue of the mifi, a mifi may survive a 4 storey fall onto snow-safe reinforced concrete, but it won’t last a working day and so needs to be plugged in.

Keeping warm / cool, etc in a car

Do you get cold? This is a question I have often been asked, especially with all the snow, well first off, no, cars are like a greenhouse, however, when its minus something and a polar vortex - don’t be an idiot and decide to work from your car! This is very much something for a day when you want to get out there, and it's a question of regulating window opening.

The premise is that a topped up Sherpa 100AC will keep a Macbook 12", a MiFi and your phone in working order all day and then some, and with sun, the solar output of a nomad 14 plus you may even keep that topped up, a nomad 28 or two daily chained nomad 14s especially so, and if you go our and get that run in the sun in, while leaving other things charging then you may even be offsetting all your working electronics to the power of the sun. And that makes you feel good, hopefully in a non annoying way.

Common sense however, dictates that you have water, food and warm clothes / blanket etc. in case you get stranded / brake down beyond that sunlight and the greenhouse that is / was your car, turns into a fridge.
This test was done at a latitude of 42.7000° N with clear sunlight, obviously a little closer to the equator, you will in theory get a better result (in practice maybe not as when a panel gets hot it delivers less power) however YMMV with days with cloud, no matter how much sun there is between and further north, I have had days where in the UK I have had half the watts in bright winter sun, but others with nothing... will update this as summer comes, so be sure to follow.