How do You Make an Ice Cube from the Sun?

solar van, solar applications, solar camping

Plover cranking out solar amps in northern Canadian Rockies in July. Photo credit: Neil Johannsen.

“Solar power, of course,” said Neil Johannsen,  retired Director of Alaska State Parks, answering his own question.

He asked me that question as I looked at his solar-powered van, Plover, named after a bird. I love that question. That is just the kind of question we should be asking ourselves about everything. How can we do things differently; think about energy differently?

When Neil looks at rooftops be it a car, boat or house, he sees the potential to capture and store energy. He even invented the solar dinghy. And, sold three of them. And, he’s found something that will squeeze just a little more power from your solar panels too, more on that in a bit.

As I sat in Neil’s patio garden, listening to how parking lots and roads could be used to capture solar energy as another way to get our culture off of coal-generated electricity, I saw a bit of magic. The garden water fountain was … solar powered by a tiny panel perched on a second-story railing. The garden shed’s light was … solar powered by something that is so thin and flexible it looks like fabric. Solar fabric. It makes you think, right? What if we had solar sleeves on our jackets to power our devices?

His small-scale solar innovations are constant. The solar panel on his van is so light that once the wing nuts that hold the aluminum frame onto the van are unscrewed, the panel can be placed in the sun while the van is parked in the shade. The panel powers electricity in the van. Neil can watch movies on his laptop and grab a cold beverage while camping without a loud generator spewing exhaust and noise into the wilderness. The solar panel stores enough energy in the battery while driving to power his laptop and refrigerator. Think of it – all your creature comforts powered by the sun.

The sun + panels to capture power + batteries to store power + converters to go from DC to AC power = electricity. That’s a basic equation for solar energy. Neil uses two six-volt golf cart batteries, joined plus to minus, to create one powerful 12-volt battery for his van. The solar panel is a Renogy 100W 12 volts light weight monocrystalline solar panel, but the magic happens with a solar charge controller. Neil uses Renogy 40 Amp Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) Solar Charge Controller. It matches the voltages between the solar panel and the battery resulting in up to 30% more efficient transfer of power, reducing the number of solar panels needed for any application.

Proof that living lighter on the planet doesn’t mean sacrifice – just a little innovation. So, whether you want to keep your devices charged while kayaking, or to heat your van while you’re out in the wilderness, think solar.

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