Solar to Go – Powering a Home Office Away from Home

January 31, 2017

More companies are encouraging their employees to work from home a day a week or more to increase staff productivity, save space, and improve work-life balance (we hope), which leads to additional electric power usage at the house during the day. Hence, telecommuting is another argument for installing solar which allows you to take advantage of sun power to reheat your coffee in the microwave and even toss a load of towels in the dryer between conference calls. Arizona regulators just stopped offering net-metering to residential customers but Oregon is still more than happy to compensate home solar owners for their extra energy. Which means, it’s a great time to look into installing some panels, especially since Oregon’s Residential Energy Tax Credit for photovoltaic installations is still available through 2017.

Yet, “work from home” can quickly become work from anywhere, and then do you have to leave your green power behind? Nope. Solar energy can be on the go, too, just like you.

I learned this from my husband last summer when he drove our daughter to a mid-week overnight Girls in Engineering and Marine Science (GEMS) camp, an excellent program run by Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center at the Newport Aquarium, one of the Oregon Department of Education’s STEM Hub offerings on the Oregon Coast.

It was just far enough away that it didn’t make sense to drive the three hours home when he had to pick her up the next day anyway. The weather was gorgeous so he decided to camp near the dunes instead of booking a hotel. That choice meant he either needed to work in the car with it running all day (not eco-friendly and just plain weird and wrong at South Beach State Park, right?), charge a case of power banks for his laptop, or outfit a solar powered mobile office.

Before I saw his set up I pictured portable solar generation as some sort of trailer, like a little clean room on wheels with pop up panels at a scientific desert research outpost. However, who needs a room with walls when you have the great outdoors? The morning before they left on their journey down US 101, my other half jury-rig mounted our kit of portable Fenix International solar panels on our Honda Pilot’s roof rack and plugged into the matching ReadySet battery pack to charge up on the drive to the beach (originally designed for African entrepreneurs that need off-grid power, we use ours for outdoor excursions and keep it charged for emergency preparedness). Armed with a backup 12-Volt jump starter portable rechargeable battery from the automotive store and mobile DC to AC inverter (like this 400-Watt model by PEAK) in case of an overcast morning, he was ready to roll. It also seems that most of these contraptions come with USB ports these days (except the jump starter) so not a problem to simultaneously charge one or more laptops and phones while sitting at a picnic bench conference table or lying in a hammock at your camp site.

Back at home my daughter talked about seeing electric eels that can produce up to 600 volts and my husband blissfully recollected his uninterrupted work session thanks to his mobile power station. He plans to book more two-day “solar glamping” trips to catch up on his writing. Sounds great to me – just don’t forget the sunblock.

 

Jennifer Rouda is a Solar Oregon board member and a utility-scale renewable energy planner and the founder of 7Skyline, LLC, an energy consulting firm in Oregon. Learn more at www.7skyline.com or follow Jennifer on Twitter @7skylinellc.