Last year, John and I made a trip out to Utah to catch the Self-Reliance Expo to check out all the new products and services that we are all interested in. We looked at a lot of cool stuff and heard from a lot of great presenters. After the show we made the obligatory trek to CostCo and other local shops to check out what the folks in Utah keep on their shelves that we miss out on in California. At CostCo, John and I spent some time at a booth that was set up by a company called Goal Zero. In short, they make solar panels and power packs to store the solar power. What is unique about their products is that they are totally portable and have applications to fit your power needs. These guys are not about 5000 watt solar arrays that you fit onto your roof. These guys manufacture units that are fully portable. Think Everest base camps and power electronics on an extended hike in the wilderness. Anyway, I didn’t feel I had enough knowledge about the products to make a purchase at the time but after doing some research I came to the conclusion that this is a product that I should get interested in. Fast forward to today.
A few weeks ago, Goal Zero held a booth at the local CostCo here in Southern California. While I was big box spending, I spent a lot of time picking the brain of the vendor who had a ton of information for me. The booth at this CostCo had a lot more products and information than the booth in Utah and I could really compare all of the goods that they had to offer. I immediately wanted the most power I could get and was ready to burn my credit card out. After a pause, I left the store with nothing. The guy at the booth didn’t seemed phased as I left his sales area with nothing in hand. Was it because he was prepared for rejection? Nope. He knew I’d be back and I was.
I spent the night thinking about what I needed to power in the event that I could not plug into the grid. Well, the fridge is out. I’d love to power it in the event of a black out but it just takes too much power. You would need to spend thousands in solar power to keep that thing going. Better off getting a propane fridge. The lights. I’ve got candles and flash lights for that. The TV: if the power is out, so is the internet and cable. But, I do have a CB. I do have walkie talkies. I do have an iPhone and I do have an iPad. I also have flash lights that run on batteries. BOOM!!! I found a real reason to make a Goal Zero purchase. I need to power my phone, tablet and need to recharge all of the electronics that use a AA or AAA battery. The next day I went back to CostCo and this time I took John with me.
Back in the store the salesman seemed hardly surprised to see me. He patiently went through all of the solar power solutions with me and we decided on what I needed. What I needed was to keep commo up and keep my rechargeable batteries in service. This way, even if the cell sites went down, my kid could watch movies on the iPad and iPhone, the flashlights would still work and the GPS would keep on humming. We decided on the Guide 10 Plus power pack and the Nomad 7 solar panel.
The Nomad 7 Solar Panel:
Ok, this is where it starts. The actual solar panel that you use to collect the energy of the sun. What’s cool about this panel is that it can power up any cell phone via the USB port that is a part of the panel itself. Just plug and play. Place the panel in full sun, plug in your USB device and you’re ready to go.
Also, the panel will accept 12 volt car charger adapters. This means that anything you plug into your cars cigarette lighter will work on this panel. Now, remember that the “7″ in Noamd 7 stands for 7 watts. So don’t go trying to plug in your mini car fridge into this thing. We’re talking phones, GPS and small portable electronics (camera). Another cool thing about this unit is that it folds down into a very small package. About the size of a twice folded news paper and close to the weight of a small magazine. Charging times vary but a phone will go up to full charge from zero in about 4-6 hours and the same for other small electronics. Additionally, the panel has loops that allow the unit to be hung from your back pack while hiking or attached to almost anything you can imagine. You could hike out to a location with this thing on your pack and be charging, literally, on the go. Another plus is that this thing is durable. You can run it over with your car. Bend it a little and most importantly, drop it and it will come out charging. Couple this with the Guide 10 Plus and you have a power house.
The Guide 10 Plus:
In a word, ROCK. This unit is so cool. It is basically a four battery charger that will power up four AA batteries or four AAA batteries. You plug it into the Nomad 7 and it will charge the batteries for you. It takes about 3-4 hours to get them charged. Cool, battery charger on solar. Decent charge up time. Wait, there’s more. The Guide 10 will also charge your phone, GPS, etc just like the Nomad 7 will. It will also charge an iPad.
Sadly, the Nomad 7 will not charge the iPad. But the Guide 10 will and you can use the Noamd 7 to charge the Guide 10. So, you have solar power to charge the Guide 10, which charges your AA or AAA batteries, which in turn runs your small electronics. Groovie. Can’t charge the iPad with the solar panel? No worries. Charge the Guide 10 and let that charge your tablet. Here’s another cool feature of the Guide 10 battery pack. It has an LED flashlight built into it. You can use this thing as a flashlight. Cool. Let’s talk about size. The Guide 10 is about the size of a deck of cards and weighs about two that. The weight is all batteries. Not much load in your rucksack.
Let’s get practical:
For the size and weight of a typical newsstand magazine, this is a no brainer. The ability to power your portable electronics on the go with little space and weight restrictions makes this product combination a GO. The versatility of this product makes it a GO. The cost ($110) make it a GO. The cool factor, priceless. What I really like about all of the Goal Zero products is that it is all plug and play. No funky wire hook ups and no advanced degrees in electrical engineering needed to make the products work the way they should. All of their stuff is as light as it can be and as portable as can be without sacrificing performance. The price is also fair considering the state of this type of technology. Do I need to power my fridge in a grid down? No, but they have products that will do it. For now, I like that all of my hand held electronics will remain powered just using the power of the sun and that I can take them on the go. As a final note, I have a solar panel array on my roof with the batteries, inverters and charge controllers. They are ugly as hell. The Goal Zero products, no matter the size, are super sexy to look at. I would hate to have an eye sore around the house but I would gladly display any of the Goal Zero products around the house. They’re just cool to look at and are all self contained. Just dead sexy. Anyway, no matter what solar solutions you try on, get one. The grid power you plug into everyday won’t last forever and is plagued with hiccups. The sun isn’t going anywhere for a while. Use what God gave you and harness this power.