How many of us have found ourselves standing outside our domes, thinking, “What if I covered the south side with solar panels – could I generate enough electricity to live off-grid”? If you’re in Australia, you were probably thinking, ‘north side’. Anyway, it seems like there’s a huge potential for all that surface area outside the dome.
It’s been an R&D dream for years – to figure out a way to inexpensively collect free energy, store it in a safe, relatively maintenance-free way, and then make it available to the common appliances that we all use. For anyone who has dabbled in solar power, you know there’s a lot of details that have to be considered. How do you attach the solar panels to the roof/cover? Where do you store the batteries? How can you keep from overcharging the batteries, or depleting them completely? How many panels do you need if you’re only powering lights and charging cellphones and laptops? How many panels if you’re running a water pump or a small refrigerator? What do you do with all the wires? Is it possible to build a system that’s both modular and scalable? You may have your own list of questions.
So we talked about it for a long time. Then we decided to just jump into the dome and try some things out. Here’s our first iteration. Many thanks to Jon Keller, professor of Construction and Engineering at Fullerton College for his help in designing the prototype circuits.
It started with the idea of connecting a lot of 18650 Lithium Ion batteries together inside a 1 ½” PVC strut, where they would be unobtrusive and contained. Putting three together and stacking them, we found that it just fit, but there were some problems.
First, lithium-ion is what they use in Tesla cars, so it has to be good, right? Well, it can be a little unstable. We chose to go with Lithium Iron Sulphate batteries, because they’re very stable, and we foresee these being shipped to a lot of overseas places.
|Since we wanted the units to be modular, we kept them fairly small. That way, if you just need light, you can get one unit and one solar panel. But if you need more power, you should be able to add more battery packs and more solar panels.|
|We also wanted to be able to charge some low amperage items, like cellphones, so we put some USB ports in the control box, along with a DC car charger.|
Is this for sale? No, this is R&D. If there’s interest, we may try to roll out some beta units. Overall, though, we think this is just a very cool idea, and a good way to make domes more accepted as a shelter alternative.