On September 6, 2019, Hurricane Dorian struck the Outer Banks area of North Carolina, and was a Category 1 storm at landfall on Cape Hatteras where winds of 101 mph were recorded. A storm surge of 4-7 feet of sea water impacted Hatteras Island villages. Across Dare County, there were over $14.8 million in damage assessments. S. Pence was a regional agent for a national insurance company, and he needed to assess the destruction of personal and commercial property in Dare County. For his insurance work, Mr. Pence used a standard laptop by Dell, an Apple iPhone, and a quality portable HP Office Jet Pro 6230 ePrinter, but there were no electrical outlets. Mr. Pence approached us at Powerenz and requested a portable solar generator quick solution to his lack of power.
Portable Solar Generator
When asked for specific electrical specs, Mr. Pence reported that his laptop had an AC-powered charger that was rated at 45 watts, and that he needed to use the laptop up to 6 hours/day for consecutive days. When asked if he had a more efficient 12-volt DC-powered charger, he replied that he did not, that he was in a hurry, and that he did not have time to secure one. His printer was quite energy efficient and was rated at 24 watts when operating at maximum capacity. He would need to use the printer for up to 2 hours/day for consecutive days. The iPhone charger required the standard 5 watts at USB voltage, and he would need to use his iPhone 24 hours/day every day without fail. We recommended that he bring an extra iPhone with him.
After some simple math, we estimated that Mr. Pence would require no more than approximately 400 watt-hours of energy per day to keep his devices in operation. Since Mr. Pence would not need to hike around and carry his portable solar generator over long distances (he’d be driving from point A to point B all day), the components of the system were not required to be ultra light weight. Understanding that the weather is typically very good immediately after a hurricane, and that there would be a good 4-6 hours per day of clear blue skies and sunshine for at least 1 week, we quickly designed and assembled a portable solar power system that included one 150-watt lightweight foldable solar panel that could produce 600 watt-hours of energy in 4 hours of strong sunshine, a 60 amp-hour lithium chemistry battery pack that could store up to 768 watt-hours of energy (roughly 2 full days of needed power), an efficient MPPT solar charge controller, an inverter to power up the chargers for the laptop and printer, a USB adapter to recharge the iPhone, all of the necessary cables and connectors, and a durable hard case to enclose the electronics. The portable solar panel could be carried inside or outside of the hard case. Mr. Pence could use the system with the lid of the case closed in order to protect the electronics against sand, debris, insects, rain, and salt water mist.
In one afternoon, we were able to assemble and test the portable solar generator in good sunshine just outside our shop in Kennesaw, Georgia, then package it. The total weight of the portable solar power system, including the relatively heavy hard case, was 52 pounds. A local insurance agent in the Marietta, Georgia area was able to pick up the system, then ship it over night to Mr. Pence in the Dare County area. Once Mr. Pence received and unpacked the system, and after a 20-minute instructional telephone conversation with me, he began to use the solar generator. For five full consecutive days, Mr. Pence had continuous uninterrupted power for his work, and stored energy to spare. In the spectrum of hurricane severity and damage of property, hurricane Dorian would not be considered severe. In 2003, Isabel caused $167 million in damages in Dare County. In 2011, Irene caused $54 million in damages. In 2016 and 2018, Matthew and Florence each caused over $1 billion in damages across the State of NC. The utility of portable solar power for the insurance agents who must roam the countryside and rubble to assess damages is easy to understand.