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Renewable Energy

UNplug solar controller heart of micro-solar system

UNplug solar controller is heart of micro-solar system

Markus Löffler is a software engineer living in Altadena, California. After a recent power outage that caused all the food in the freezer compartment of his refrigerator to spoil, he thought to himself, “There has to be a better way!” And now there is.

Löffler put his talents to work and created an inexpensive solar controller that seamless shifts the power supply for one or two critical electrical devices between grid power, solar power and battery power. He calls his device the UNplug (clever name, Marcus!) and it is the subject right now of a Kickstarter campaign. Marcus will use the funds from that program to put his UNplug into production.

The UNplug is a simple idea that has huge implications. Löffler says that the electricity needed to power all the refrigerators, laptops, and modems in the United States is responsible for adding 33 billion pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Yet all those devices and appliances are vital to our daily routines. His big idea is precisely this:

“How can we save money and have a quick and positive impact on the environment? Here’s the answer — by using the greenest energy source there is… solar. No moving parts, the power is just absorbed through solar panels. With this free energy, you turn your power needs “off the grid” during the most critical “peak” times in a day — between 10am and 6pm when energy costs are the highest. At night, UNplug automatically switches you back to the electricity grid.”

Löffler’s micro-solar system requires just one solar panel (you can add more if you wish). He provides a list of components you will need on his website. He even tells you where to go on the web to find them. Rather than adding a full rooftop solar system to your home that can cost $20,000 or more and take decades to pay for, creating a micro-solar system that powers just one or two items costs under $1,000. If your refrigerator uses $25.00 a month of electricity a month, your savings will pay for the system in just 4 years.

UNplug solar controllerInstead of spending $7,350 for a Tesla PowerWall (that’s the cost quoted by SolarCity), Löffler relies on two deep cycle lead acid batteries that cost less than $100 each. DC current is DC current. It doesn’t care if it gets stored in a device that pretty enough to hang on the wall of your living room or in a pair of old fashioned marine batteries in the basement.

During the day, UNplug feeds electricity from the solar panel into the appliances connected to it and charges the battery bank. When the sun goes down, it seamlessly switches over those devices to using grid power. In the event of a blackout, UNplug then powers those same appliances from the battery bank, allowing certain crucial electricity needs to continue to be met during an outage.

The beauty of Löffler’s idea is that you don’t need to begin saving money on electricity while using clean solar power by converting your whole home into an off grid fortress designed to survive a full on zombie attack. You can start small by powering one or two critical items, like your refrigerator. And in a variation of the “If everyone lit just one little candle” theme, if everyone powered their refrigerator with a micro-solar system, that’s a lot of carbon dioxide that never gets put into the atmosphere.

Brilliant!

Source: Tree Hugger / Graphics: UNplug




3 comments
  1. James Mead

    Why don’t you just get a single panel and micro-inverter? Paying for storage is never going to be as cost-effective as just offsetting AC use directly. You’ve got DC->DC->AC conversions to go through, why not just go DC->AC and be done with it?

    Plus lead is not more cost effective just because it’s cheaper upfront. Lower cyclic life and poor charge/discharge efficiency compared to lithium means you’re wasting a good percentage of your solar yield.

    And big panels are always cheaper per watt vs. small panels. You can get 200+ watt panels for $.50/watt right now, anything smaller is likely to be at least twice as much per watt.

  2. TedKidd

    If your refrigerator costs $25 a month, time for a new refrigerator.

    Not sure the math of “smaller scale produces greater payback” holds up to even light scrutiny.

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