Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Solar Suitcase

The first ever Solar Suitcase class @ Solar Energy International (SEI) was given in the last days of June, 2011 in sunny & beautiful Carbondale, CO, @ SEI's famous & eco-groovy Third Street Center. Our modest group of 19 was taught by SEI's own smart & perky Soozie Lindbloom, & Hal Aronson of WE CARE Solar, base in Berkeley, CA. A great team, Hal & Soozie explained all of the components of the Solar Suitcase in easy to understand terms, & the great necessity for these suitcases in developing areas was driven home by WE CARE's Laura Stachel, who shared her experiences in Nigeria, Liberia & Haiti in rural hospitals as a world-traveling OB/GYN-turned humanitarian. Check out WE CARE Solar's impressive accomplishments with the Solar Suitcase @

Instructor Hal uses defenseless student, Scott Secrest, to demonstrate the essential components of the Solar Suitcase in the SEI classroom.

The class is let loose to put together some suitcases to be used as demos @ SEI, as well as donated to environmental organizations striving to bring small solar lighting systems to developing areas around the world.

Dedicated students hard at work wiring together the components of the solar suitcase circuit board.

The circuit board in it's skeleton form, displaying a breaker box, charge controller & load center... waiting to be joined with the battery & PV panel.

As you might imagine, the biggest perk of the solar suitcase is that it fits into a small box.

Tinkering around with some little panels to get us started with general circuitry, we started the workshop off by wiring together a small system & powering a little cassette-playing radio with 2 3-volt PV panels. Such a simple & inexpensive system ~ this would have changed my life in Peace Corps!

And what's more fun that solar powered bubbles?!?

Taking a break with a solar cooked potluck : )

The solar suitcase in it's entirety (sans case): an 18V/2A solar panel, LED light fixture, 12V/12A battery, [triple] breaker box, 30A charge controller, & a load center consisting of 3 12V cigarette lighter adapters & an O.S. connector. Pretty simple stuff, & all fits into a water-tight plastic suitcase which can be easily transported to a rural area in dire need of a simple lighting system.

Chuko from Nigeria gets his system situated & fires it up in the sun outside the Third Street Center.

A proud group demonstrates their solar suitcase success.

Our group's was the best, of course ; )

Glenn scratches his head @ Hal's effective sabotaging attempts during the troubleshooting stage of the class.

This resourceful group uses it's spectacular height advantage to get the panels as close as possible to the sun when the weather turns cloudy.

The team as a whole after demonstrated success!

Thanks Hal & Soozie !!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Renewable Energy for the Developing World class @ SEI

The Renewable Energy for the Developing World course @ Solar Energy International (SEI) in the beautiful mountain town of Carbondale, Co., is a fast-paced & well-rounded class for anyone interested in sustainable programs in developing countries. The June 2011 class was fairly small, with 9 students from varying backgrounds, making it a close-knit course & easy to get to know one another during the daily hands-on projects. Topics included solar cooking in Africa, Brazil, Peru & Haiti; PV programs in Haiti, Ecuador, Nicaragua & Liberia; Biofuels in Senegal & Mexico; Micro-hydro in Thailand; End-User Financing; the Cuban Energy Revolution & Gender Development. Hands-on projects involved solar cooking; making LED light fixtures; constructing a fuel efficient stove; laying out a Biodigester at a local sustainable farm; & re-wiring a PV system at the SEI headquarters.

Classroom @ Third Street Center in Carbondale

Ed teachin' us all about his original LED light fixtures.

Class soldering the wires of our own personal LED lit bamboo fixtures.

I made light!

Matt, SEI's solar cooking guru, demos a variety of solar cookers.

Cooking in the sun.

A pretty cool suitcase cooker.

And a rotisserie cooker!

Ed's super cool portable parabolic.

Our solar cooked pot luck, mingling SEI students & staff.

Stomping up the dirt, sand & hay to build our fuel efficient stoves.

Putting the finishing touches on our rocket stoves.

Beautiful Mt. Sopris.

A sustainable farm just outside Carbondale, that supports eco-living with an in-sync combination of passive & active solar hybrids, photovoltaic solar panels, micro-hydro, wind power, biogas, biodiesel, geothermal applications, static electricity, fuel efficient stoves, & an 'intelligent use of gravity'.

Solar hot water heater.

Installation of a bio-digester that will use the waste from the pigs, cows, sheep & goats on the farm to produce a super-effective fertilizer, as well as methane gas to power their huge outdoor kitchen.

SEI's office headquarters in downtown Carbondale.

A solar powered school bus used to educate school kids in the area.

One of the many PV arrays that power the SEI building.

The electrical box & battery bank for the pv array.

A re-wiring exercise for the class.

Topping off the batteries with distilled water.

Hooking up the battery bank.

Our instructor's straw bale house.

Complete with a built-in solar cooker!