Solar Power for Testing Water Quality in the Remote Salmon River, Idaho


The Main Salmon River in Idaho
The Main Salmon River in Idaho

While rafting and fly-fishing in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness along the Main Salmon River in Idaho, several recreational groups reported sightings of dead trout that were floating on the surface of the water. The Main Salmon River crosses the north-central portion of Idaho in an almost horizontal direction between latitudes 44 and 45. In the 80 miles of untouched wilderness, there are campers, organized rafting and canoeing trips, soft, sandy beaches, hot springs, abandoned cabins, deserted gold panning sites, and more. Though it is not unheard of to spot a rare dead fish floating in the water, to see them in multiple areas has not been reported, and was of great concern. This information was reported to The Investigative Services Branch of the Idaho National Park Service, and they planned to send their expert scientist, SP, to check the water. In planning his trip, SP estimated that he would require at least 10 full days in the wilderness to travel to and from the reported locations, collect samples of water, test the water, attempt to find a dead fish, and perform a full investigation of the circumstances.

     SP approached Powerenz for a lightweight portable solar power solution to the off-grid lack of power.  According to SP, in and around the Main Salmon River, mostly surrounded on both sides by tall and steep canyons, one can expect to receive 2-3 hours of good sunshine every day, sometimes more or less depending on the width of the canyon.  His portable Environmental Water Quality Laboratory consists of several instruments, all of which require power via a variety of batteries.  The instruments include a Colorimeter, electrical Optical Sensors, a Total Dissolved Solids meter, dissolved oxygen meter, pH meter, dissolved organic matter instrument, chlorophyll fluorescence device, thermometer, and equipment to culture samples of the water, surrounding substances, and hopefully a dead fish if one could be found.  No single piece of equipment requires much power, but they add up.  To keep all of the batteries charged would allow SP to use all of his instruments as needed.  After examining the battery chargers, we estimated that SP’s total daily energy requirement would be 125 watt-hours, that his peak power consumption would be 50 watts when all of the critical battery chargers were operating, that some of the batteries could be recharged via USB, and the rest could be recharged via 12-volts DC.  To provide 12-volts DC, several cigarette lighter sockets would be provided.


     Traveling with one assistant, two horses, two backpacks, one inflatable raft with paddles, all of their gear, food, water, and spare clothing, SP reported to us that the total weight of the portable solar charger could be no more than 20 pounds.  Powerenz put its calculator and scale to work.  We chose one of our LiPo16-20W portable solar power systems in a protective hard case that weighs 12.5 pounds, includes a 177.6 watt-hour, lightweight, lithium chemistry battery, and includes a built-in 20-watt solar panel. Since the duration of peak sunshine each day would be limited in many areas by the surrounding vertical canyon walls to 3 hours/day, we added an additional 36-watt, 3.6-pound foldable solar panel for faster charging of the battery. That would provide a total of 56 watts of solar array, and 16.1 pounds of gear.  During those times when SP was surrounded by vertical cliffs, he’d be able to harvest 112 – 168 watt-hours of energy per day.  When not in the canyons, he’d be able to harvest more energy to keep his scientific equipment operational.  Using this portable solar charger, SP would be able to power up 4 separate battery chargers simultaneously plus keep his Sat Phone charged using a USB charge port.


Powerenz Briefcase and solar panel
Powerenz Briefcase and solar panel

SP agreed to the choice of systems. Powerenz happened to have the complete portable solar power system in the shop, already tested in outdoor conditions, and ready to dispatch. The package was shipped right away to Idaho, and as far as we know, SP has been out in the field searching for the etiology of the dead trout. We hope to hear back from him soon.




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