A long-time goal of mine has been to live off the grid. I’m not there yet, but a few months ago, I took a big step toward realizing that dream. I bought my first solar panel and began the process of going solar.
Going Solar Isn’t Just for Sunny Places Anymore
Before I go any further, let me state that I do not live in the sunny southern states. I do not live in sunny California. I do not live on the equator. I live in upstate NY, an area with 4 seasons (almost winter, winter, still winter, and summer), so there are a lot of sunless day where I live. In fact as I sit here writing this, it’s -2 and cloudy as Mount Doom. However, even on a fully cloudy day, I can still watch my solar panel trickling in a constant 7 or 8 watts, slowly charging my solar battery. Modern solar panels are well made, and if you have multiple batteries, you can rotate them for days when the sun isn’t shining. Going solar in NY is no longer a fantasy.
Going Solar with Goal Zero
When I first starting looking into solar, I knew I wanted something that was actually green, something like solar (but not the corporatized solar that involves scarring acres of good land with a huge, ugly field of solar panels, just so one company can benefit from the profits.) I was interested in going solar on the small scale, in a way that was actually practical and beneficial to the planet.
I did a lot of research and finally settled on a company called Goal Zero. They had a lot of options in solar panels and power packs (to store and use all that wonderful juice you collect from the sun). There are small packs, and foldable solar panels for backpackers and other mobile needs, or there are bigger, more powerful solutions for home users.
In addition, I loved the company’s “Share the Sun” project, in which they give back to the world by helping get solar power to impoverished areas or those that have been affected by natural disasters (such as the slew of terrible hurricanes the world has seen as of late). I also found out later that if you get on their mailing list, you can get a heads up when they’re having sales and save a little money on going green (which I’ll definitely be taking advantage of in the future when I expand my use of going solar).
So in November I purchased a Boulder 50 solar panel and a Yeti 400 power pack to use for my craft/costume business and tutorials. Goal Zero has larger solar panels and power packs than what I purchased (therefore providing more power), but I wanted something that would be small enough for me to easily carry back and forth between my sewing machine, my filming area, and outside to power up. The Yeti weighs in at around 30 lbs. so it’s super easy to carry around. The Yeti 400, as it’s name would suggest, provides me with 400 watts of power. It’s plenty enough to power my lights, my glue gun, my sewing machine, heat gun, dremel, driver/drills, video camera, and my computer. (So now I can honestly say that my tutorials are created entirely by solar power!)
Going Solar is Surprisingly Easy
The solar panel and power pack are super easy use. There’s nothing to assemble, just pull it out of the box, plug in the cord (it’s even color-coded where it goes) and start charging. Once the power pack is charged, you just plug your device directly into the box, no adapters needed. The Yeti that I have has two AC ports, 2 USB ports, and a 12 volt port. Fully equipped for any device I need to power for my business. The battery display lets you know how much power you’re using, and how much power you have left. It’s easy!
I have to say, the first time you put out that solar panel, and watch those watts stacking up in your power pack, you get this intense warm and cozy feeling, like you’re actually doing something that makes a difference in this world. (Ok, so 400 watts on its own isn’t really a world-altering achievement, but it sure feels like it that first time. And if everyone did it, those 400 hundred watts per person would add up pretty quick and it really would be a world-altering achievement).
I do most of my tutorial work in the afternoon and evening, so the first thing I do when I get up is take my power pack out to charge. That way it’s all ready for me when I’m ready to start recording or need to charge my computer, etc. It’s great, because it’s making FREE power for me while I’m eating breakfast and doing other things around the house. I don’t have to do anything beyond the initial setup of the panel. Chalk one up to the ease of going solar!
An unexpected, but very beneficial side-effect of going solar is that you suddenly become very energy conscious when you have a limited supply of power. (I’ve been like that for years with water, since when you live on a well, every single drop counts, but electricity has always been a little more available…) I’d always thought I was fairly electrically conscious, turning out lights when I wasn’t using them, and unplugging “vampire” devices, but when you actually see the power level dropping, you become even more conscious.
I quickly realized that my sewing machine draws around 40 watts with the bulb on, but only 7 with the bulb off; my computer draws around 80 with the top up, but only 60 with the top closed, etc. Needless to say, I started clicking off the bulb on my sewing machine while I wasted time tying thread knots or checking the straightness of a line of stitches. I now close my computer whenever I leave the room, even if it’s just for a brief moment. I click off my camera in between filming shots, etc. All these little steps help me make that 400 watts in my power pack last long enough to get all my work done.
Now as I said at the beginning, I’m not entirely off the grid in my full life yet, but I have succeeded in taking my business entirely off the grid, by doing all my creating (and computer work) with solar power. And I hope to take the rest of the my life off the grid in the near future as well. One power pack is certainly not enough to do that with, but the benefits of the Goal Zero products are that you can connect multiple solar panels and power packs together to give yourself faster charge times and longer lasting power. It makes going solar in NY possible even in our cold, cloudy winters.
If you’re thinking about going solar, give Goal Zero a look-see. They have lighting options in addition to their solar panels and power packs. (They’ve even got some adorable little string lights with removable colored covers, giving you solar-powered outdoor Christmas lights!). So they’ve got all the bases covered.
The biggest complaint I’ve heard about the company is their pricing is high. Though honestly I didn’t find their prices unreasonable at all. When I was doing my research, I found they were pretty comparable to other solar companies of any quality (sure, you can get some really cheaply made ones that are less expensive, but truly, you get what you pay for.) Thus far I’ve found the Goal Zero solar products I’ve used to be sturdy and reliable. And with the power I’m making for free from the sun, they pay themselves off pretty quickly. (And I found Goal Zero to have great customer service too!)
Are you think about going solar or are you already a solar user? If so let me know in the comments below what you use to power your life. Stay sunny my friends 🙂Enjoy this post? Click here to subscribe by email and get new posts delivered to your inbox.