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Old 09-28-2012, 02:07 AM   #1 (permalink)
Join Date: Sep 2011

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Goal Zero, solar panels and batteries

I do not work for Goal Zero, but I have become a fan of the company, and their product. To begin with, here is their website:
Portable Solar Battery Charger | Portable Solar Panels | Off-Grid Solar Generators | Goal Zero - Extreme Portable Power

What are they? A company that makes very user friendly solar panels and batteries, as well as a few lights. I say user friendly, because you don't need to know about electrical wiring to set anything up. It is very plug and play.

A bit over a year ago, I leaned of the company because they send representatives out to various Costco's throughout the US. The people set up some tables, show of some products, very simple stuff, and help garner some sales. They offer some panels, a light or two, the Rockout speaker system, and a battery. Just the tip of the iceberg. I ended up picking up three of the Boulder 15 panes, an Escape 150 battery, and a Light-A-Life hanging light. One nice thing, the panels are easily linked together, and you can pick up some clips that will help to hold them together. So I placed the three Boulder 15's on the back patio cover (It faces the East), plugged in the Escape 150 (Which I have dubbed the Green Lantern Battery), and hooked the light up to that, hanging near the BBQ grill. The setup didn't get much of a workout for a while, just occasionally lighting up the grill area when I was cooking and it was dark out.

The Escape 150 is a really cool battery. It is not only a battery, but integrated into it is a power inverter with hookups for 110 AC, USB, and a 6mm 12V port. It has a small LCD on the other side that shows how much energy it still has remaining, in 20% increments, and access to a small fuse panel. It is handy to carry around with it's own handle. It does weigh in at 13 pounds, so it isn't light. But in a power outage, handy. The Light-A-Life light is a really good LED light with a 3 watt draw, but is pretty bright. It does plug in directly into the various batteries through the 6 mm plug, or there is an attachment that allows you to plug in through a car lighter type of power outlet.

So this last winter, we had a bad power outage. We got snow (We seem to get it once a winter now) and that caused a power outage. Actually, the snow didn't, it was the day after, when it warmed up enough to melt a small amount of snow, and then cooled back down to freeze it. So, no power. For six days. It was cold, let me tell you. We used this to not only give us a nice light while we were home, as well as to charge up our cell phones at night. Handy, but enough.

Honestly, I would really like to go big with solar power at our home. If we owned it, I would invest big time, as our roof is peaked with one side facing the East, and the other side facing the West. Panels on both sides means that we will be able to pick up plenty of sun throughout the day. Enough panels means that we can actually sell some of the power back to the electric company during the sunnier days.

So earlier this year, I picked up some more stuff from Goal Zero. I got a Nomad 7 and Nomad 13.5 portable panels, a Guide 10 Plus , Rockout speakers, and three Sherpa 50 batteries.

The Guide 10 Plus is really handy for helping to recharge my Android phone (Stupid things sucks up power like no tomorrow sometimes), as well as they have a small LED flashlight. Cool thing, they have swappable AA batteries, so you can use it to charge any AA batteries you want, as well as use an insert to charge AAA batteries. It has a USB port for power, and you can plug it into either a Nomad panel or your computer/electrical outlet (Through a USB to mini USB port) to charge it.

The Rockout charges through a USB to mini USB port, and can hold a 20 hour run time through it's built in battery. The speakers are in a wood box, that is covered with a durable fabric. There is a zipper, that when you open it up, it clamshells open, with the speakers on one side, that has an on/off switch, the charging port, and a headphone cable to connect to a MP3 player or cell phone, and on the other side, a mesh pocket to hold your MP3 player or cell phone. When zipped closed, there is a zig zag of thinner bungee type cord that can be used to help attach it something, like a bike or the pole of a tent, and let it hang and play. Typically, when we have a BBQ or some other party, and I am on grilling duty, I have my iTouch plugged into the Rockout speakers to play music outside while I grill.

The Sherpa 50 batteries are lighter in weight than many of the other batteries that they sell, but they have two power out options, that being USB or 6 mm 12 V plug. The Sherpa's also LCD screens for reading the power remaining. Nice thing about them, they can be chained together, up to four of them. They have a cord in the back that can plug to another one, typically, they are stacked one on top of another. They have channels and rubber feet so they stay together pretty well, and they come with a web "belt" with clip connectors that allow you to hold up to four stacked one on top of another easily enough. They also have small "handles" on the side. Very easily carried around, they weigh in less than two pounds. There is also a Sherpa 120 model. At this time, Goal Zero is no longer making the Sherpa 50 and 120 models due to a roll out of a new model. The new Sherpas are smaller and lighter (The new Sherpa 50 is around a pound in weight), and they come with an inverter with the battery, instead of having to purchase that separately (Currently available on eBay or Amazon for anywhere between $50-60 brand new).

The Nomad panels are great for portable and light in weight. They have panels that weigh in less than half a pound, and although the measurements seem to vary a bit, they seem to average around 6.5" wide by 8ish" long, and maybe 6 or 7 mm thick. The differences between the two Nomads are pretty much the number of panels, with the Nomad 7 having two panels that collect around 7 watts per hour, and the Nomad 13.5 having four panels that collect around 13.5 watts per hour. The Nomads are designed to fold up much like a large folder, with one panel in a pocket that folds over another panel. This makes for a very compact package to carry when you don't need to use it. They also have one panel that has a small box for converting the power collected to plug in your USB device (Phones are very easy charged through one of these), or other 6 mm 12V plug in device. There is also a pocket that can be used to hold additional cords as well. One cool thing is that they also have numerous loops that can be used to attach a panel to something like a backpack, so you can charge stuff up while hiking. There is also a large Nomad 27, which is like the Nomad 13.5. but adds in an additional row of panels, bringing it to eight total.

Now, we had another power outage a few months back. After I had picked up the additional Goal Zero stuff. The Sherpa's came in handy for lighting up dark parts of the house (We live in split level home, and the wife and I use the lower part for our bedroom, and the downstairs bathroom. Which has no windows...), and they were handing during the night for charging up the phones, while the Escape was handy for upstairs for lighting up the living room. I still want to go the whole solar route for the house.

Now, as I said, I have only hit the tip of the iceberg of their products. As I said, they are rereleasing the Sherpa's, smaller and with an inverter (With the inverter, they are still smaller then the old Sherpa's. There is also the Extreme 350 power pack, about as large as four of the old Sherpa's, but holds almost double the power. And finally, there is the big Yeti 1250. This has enough power that it can run a full sized refrigerator for around 17 hours before needing to be recharged. For panels, beyond the Nomad, there is also an Escape 30, portable brief case type of panel, and the Boulder 30, much larger, and portable, but not easily carried around when hiking.

There are lots of other lights, insulated/heated cups, cords and adapters, and more.

Now, after all of this, why this of much interest to us, as paintballers. Beyond the obvious of charging AA batteries, and being able to carry solar panels when one hikes, what about when people camp? Go to a big game, or scenario game, place some solar panels on the top of your tent, hook up something like the lights and your cell phone, and never worry about light at night or only turning on your phone when you need to. Or how about those that take cameras with them to big games? Now, with the right panels and batteries, you can not only make sure that you charge up your camera/batteries, but you can run your laptop, to download files and maybe even do some preliminary views to see what you have. Maybe, if you have a method of uploading, you can make a quick video and upload it to YouTube. Or for those that are going to where there is a bunkhouse, using some panels on the roof, and a Yeti, the bunkhouse can have many of the creature comforts, like a mini fridge, a heater, and lights. Same with large camp groups, with a communal tent. Maybe not the heater, but still. Again, the tip of the iceberg.

Now, the company. They are funny, with a series of videos (They used to use one YouTube channel, but now, they use a second one) that show the durability of the panels, ideas of how to use some of the products, and even them showing off the stuff, specifically the portable Nomad panels and charging cell phones at the Van's Warped tour and such. The Nomad panels are also pretty durable, with the the people that work for them going through various tests to see what it takes for them not to work anymore (It took blowing it to smithereens to get it to stop working).

Here is a link to their YouTube: GOAL ZERO - YouTube

Another thing, about the company, when I bought the three Sherpa's, I guess that one of them was a first generation model, the other two were second generation models. They are all the same size, but the first generation had the chain cable separate from the battery, to be plugged into the battery, then to another battery, whereas the other ones had them mounted on one end to the battery already, and then you plugged them into the next battery. And, it just didn't hold much of a charge. Then stopped holding a charge. So I sent an email to the company on a Friday. I didn't expect a response over the weekend, and sure enough, I got an email on Monday asking me for the serial number, and my address. Two days later, I had a package from Goal Zero with a brand new Sherpa 50. No other questions asked. Then I received an email asking me to send back the old Sherpa 50 battery. They sent me a label to print up to attach to a box, so they paid for shipping as well. This was awesome, customer service was top notch right off the bat.

Now one thing that those who know more about electrical stuff may notice is how large the wires are. Not particularly huge, sizes are 4.7 mm, 6 mm, and 8 mm in diameter. This can be a bit of a restriction in how the energy collected can get to a battery. I am sure that maybe others who are more knowledgeable about electricity and wiring may see some other downsides as well.

For me, it is perfect. When driving, like a trip to Portland, or further South, the Nomad 13.5 on the dashboard, or better still the back deck, collects energy to keep phones powered up, while still using my MP3 player with the stereo. The Sherpa's and Escape are great for power outages, or I can take at least one or the other to charge stuff up, or keep it powered out in the field. I do some photography, and I can use either, or both, to power a light, or lights, for the shoot. And as I said, I would love to go to full solar power, so lining the roof with Boulder 30's, both on the East and the West, along with Yeti 1250's placed in the house will give more than enough power to get me through the coldest of winter days (Thank you gas heat), or the hottest of summer days.
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Old 09-28-2012, 04:48 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: SoCal

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Goal Zero was the best wedding present we didn't know we needed.

Definitely need to bring the Rock out box to the next private game I can make.
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Old 09-28-2012, 12:34 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Join Date: Aug 2007

might pickup one of their item next time they are at costco. think i saw the table about a month ago.
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:09 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: in a van, by the river

heh they are back again this time in colors at the local costco here

after a few years of use still going strong - love our Goal Zero stuff - great fun and comfort to have!
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