Green Power Options At The Celebration In The Desert – Tips and Tricks From the Experts
If you've never been to the event in the desert where they burn a giant wooden man effigy (we can't call it what it is, because the name of the event is trademarked, evidently) – or if you've been but never thought about bringing electrical power to this even – this post is for you. We've scoured the web for tips, tricks, and advice from former participants, and we've used them to compile a list of tips for anyone that needs power at this that shall not be named (or anyone who plans to bring something that plugs in, into the desert).
First, there are a couple of ground rules to understand:
- No participants are to use the camp center power grid
- The goal of everyone who participates is to leave no trace when the event is over
Put more simply, stealing power? Bad. Creating your own solar power? Good.
Tips for Using Electronics at That Place We Can't Mention
The very best tip is to only bring the devices you really need to the playa. Cell phone service is spotty, and there's so much to see and do that you won't be lacking for entertainment.
Still, people do bring phones and computers to the event, as well as cameras and tablets, campsite lights, all sorts of rechargeable lights and speakers, etc. Some tips:
- Make sure all your devices (computer, phone, camera, iPod, tablet, etc.) are fully charged before entering Black Rock City. Depending on how much power you need, one good charge might be enough to get you through the event.
- Check your car battery prior to leaving for the festival, especially if you have an older car and/or your car has been slow to start. Slow starts are often a sign of a failing battery.
- Rechargeable LED lights are a great investment, as the desert is incredibly dark once the sun goes down.
- Bring a battery-powered radio to listen to the official event radio station, so you'll always be informed.
- Unplug anything that you're not actively using to preserve power. A cell phone charger that's plugged into the wall is always using power, even when there's no cell phone attached.
Desert Power Supply Options
If you bring a lot of devices, or if you bring something that uses a significant amount of power (like a
refrigerator, sleep apnea machine, or awesome custom lighting display for your camp site), you're probably interested in bringing a power supply to the playa.
Generators – especially older ones – tend to be very noisy. Some people can't sleep near a loud generator.Currently, the most common power source at the event is a gas or diesel powered generator. While generators can produce all the power that most people need, they have some shortcomings:
- Generator fuel and exhaust is smelly and toxic. You don't want to run a generator inside your tent as the exhaust fumes could poison you (or worse). Fumes can also cause breathing problems.
- If you don't bring enough fuel with you, your generator won’t be able to function and is useless for the remainder of the event, as there are no readily available gas stations at or near the event.
- Generators – even diesel generators – often require fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels releases more CO2 into the atmosphere, which goes against the “leave no trace” ethos of the event.
The good news is that while generators are affordable and powerful, they're not the only power option available. Portable battery packs – like the ArkPak – can store enough power to run a camping refrigerator for days, run LED campsite lighting for weeks, and recharge cell phones, tablets, etc. for months.
What's more, battery packs operate silently and do not emit any pollution. Unlike a gas or diesel generator, a portable battery pack is “refueled” or recharged when connected to solar panels.
A Note About Solar: Solar power is increasingly popular at the event, but solar power is limited without battery power storage. When solar panels are paired with a battery pack like the ArkPak, they can create power to last 24 hours a day.
Portable Battery Pack Tips and Advice
There are many different sizes of portable battery pack. Some very small battery packs (which may fit in the palm of your hand) are typically only capable of recharging a cell phone. Larger battery packs (which can weigh as much as 100lbs) have the power to run a lot of devices but they may be overkill for your event needs.
If you decide to buy a battery power pack for the event, it's helpful to:
- Determine and compare the total capacity of every battery pack you're looking at. This capacity is often rated in Ah (amp hours) or mAh (milli-amp hours) at a specific voltage. The ArkPak, for example can hold up to 130Ah of electricity at 12 volts.
- To figure out how many Ah you need, calculate the number of watts your device(s) require. Then divide that wattage by the voltage your device operates at, to get your amperage. You can then compare the amperage to the battery pack's Ah or mAh rating.
- Generally speaking, a battery pack specifically designed to recharge a cell phone or tablet will probably be rated in mAh. A battery pack that can power a larger device (like a portable refrigerator) will be rated in Ah.
Example: If your laptop uses 90W of power at 19V, than the laptop's amperage is under 5 amps. If you connect this laptop to a battery pack with a 50 Ah, it can provide 10 hours of power at 5 amps (50aH) before running out of “juice”, ...assuming that the laptop uses the full 5 amps of power (they often don't).
NOTE: The ArkPak's battery capacity varies, which is a good thing. You can install a battery up to a 130Ah battery (max size is group 31) if needed but you can also opt for a smaller battery if you're trying to lighten the weight of your device. What's more, you can add or remove a battery from your ArkPak as needed. This means you could potentially bring multiple batteries and just swap them out whenever they run low.
Solar Power and Portable Battery Packs – What You Need to Know
If you have a portable battery pack, there's a chance you can recharge your battery pack with a solar panel. Some battery packs are built for this sort of thing, and some aren't. Generally speaking:
- Check the battery pack owner's manual. If the pack was designed to work with solar power, there's probably something about solar in the manual. If not, it's probably not a good idea to try and charge your battery pack with a solar panel, as it could damage the battery pack (and potentially start a fire).
- Some battery packs have built-in solar panel charge controllers and some do not. The ArkPak, for example doesn't have a built-in charge controller. So, you'll need to connect your panel(s) to a charge controller and then connect the ArkPak to the controller.
- Beware of gimmicky solar panels...some only produce 5 watts of power, which is barely enough to charge a cell phone, let alone a substantial battery pack. Panels that provide 40, 60, or 100 watts are much better for charging larger battery packs quickly.
- Consider folding and flat solar panels. Folding panels are easy to transport and store but flat mono-crystalline solar panels are usually much less expensive than folding panels of similar power output.
One ArkPak reviewer connected a 100W mono-crystalline panel (purchased on Amazon for about $150) to his ArkPak and managed to fully recharge his 93aH battery in less than 8 hours of sunlight.
One Last Power Supply Tip – Do the Math!
TacomaHQ.com reviewed the ArkPak and connected a solar panel to charge it up.
If you need power for the event that shall not be named and decide to rent a generator, you can spend $40 to $80 per day for the generator itself. Then, depending on how efficient the generator is and how much power you need, you can burn as little as 1.5 gallons of fuel in 24 hours (which is what a smaller 1000W generator will consume in 24 hours) or as much as 20 gallons of fuel in a day (which is obviously a large generator).
If you only pay $40 a day to rent a generator and only burn 1.5 gallons of fuel per day, you'll spend $280 on generator rental for the week and go thru almost 10 gallons of fuel. At $4 per gallon, you'll spend at least $320 on power for one week of power in the desert.
The ArkPak reviewer linked to above purchased an ArkPak bundle for $399, a deep cycle battery to install in the ArkPak for $110, and a 100W solar panel (with charge controller) for $150. That's a grand total of $660.
The point? Renting a generator for a week is less expensive in the short term, but in the long term an ArkPak, battery and solar panel is a much better value. Not to mention, if you own the ArkPak, battery, and panel, you can use them as much as you want after the Burn and bring them back year after year.