Sustainable camp power at Burning Man

It was a dusty year at Burning Man – as usual. The heavy rainfall on the opening day could calm down the dust for some time but the whiteout came back full force two days later. Climate change is not really visible on the playa but it is definitely happening around the world…

Black Rock City Sustainability Symposium

Sustainability Summit Burning Man Black Rock City carbon footprint

Presenting my poster at the first annual Black Rock City Sustainability Summit hosted in Clutch Village

Clutch Village (5:45 & H) was organizing the first annual Black Rock City Sustainability Summit. The purpose of which is to spawn projects and partnerships that, over the course of one year will offset the entire carbon footprint of Burning Man. I was invited to present my solar project and was able to give a talk and show my poster to the audience.

Their mission statement:

Clutch Village aims to provide a medium for people interested in incorporating ideas relating to sustainability into their world of entrepreneurship. We will provide a space to meet, discuss, and start entrepreneurial projects focused on promoting sustainable living at Burning Man and in the Default World. And furthermore, we aim to connect these people who would like to make their current entrepreneurial projects more considerate towards sustainable living and the environment.

Powering Burning Man camp with solar panels

Burning Man solar power

The image shows our mobile Burning Man solar power supply with a gas generator as a backup. The special UPS controller (white box, upper right) makes it possible to use the same system for the other 51 weeks of the year at my house

As a member of camp Tidy (4:30 & D) my role was to provide power for lights, stereo and all sorts of chargers. I am attending Burning Man for several years now and I have to admit that I really dislike all those generators rattling day & night all over the playa. They are stinky, loud and you always spill something when you refill the needed fluids. On top of that are they inefficient and most of the time they are run to just provide power for a phone charger.

The right image shows the setup that worked flawlessly throughout the entire event. The box contains the following items:

  • 2x 12Volt, 105AH deep cycle AGM batteries
  • 1x 24Volt, 900W MSW inverter
  • 1x 24Volt, PWM charge controller
  • 1x solar UPS controller (my invention)
solar panel power burning man

We installed 500 Watt of solar panel power to charge the batteries for the night and also provide energy to the camp mates to charge phones, cameras, misters, bike batteries…

It turned out that the setup was a slight overkill and in the mornings the batteries were still around 70% charge. Next year we might be able to share some energy with our fellow burners at camp Grrr.

One week vs. 51 weeks

What very few people are realizing is the fact that a solar setup that you buy for your trip to Burning Man or other regular camping trips can be integrated in your household for everyday use. You can find a diagram explaining the details here.I am using this setup since 2012 at my house to power my refrigerator, TV, stereo, internet modem and all sorts of chargers.

A public charging station for the playa

public solar charging station Burning Man

Our camp provided a public charging station for the citizens of Burning Man. It offered 4x USB plugs and 3x 120V plugs. It was frequently used and delivered about 1kWh during the entire event

Amongst the principles of Burning Man are Gifting, Communal Effort, and Participation. I thought that instead of producing MOOP that ends up in the trash-bin once you are back in the default world – and would violate another principle Leave-no-trace – I wanted to provide a public charging station for the playa. We created a small shaded area and covered it in transparent foil (shower curtain) to keep some of the dust out. I labeled it ENERGIE FONDUE which was maybe not the best name because I heard people say “everything is just so complicated at Burning Man”. Next year I will just call it was it is: a free charging station.

Recommended also: Solar power data analysis

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