Portable power for Hurricane relief

After Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, and now Hurricane Maria many coastal communities are suffering prolonged power outages.  Not only do utilities need to restore power, residents also need their home to be in a sufficient state of repair in order to accept that power.

In the absence of either of those conditions, basic tasks such as placing a call on a cell phone or keeping medicines refrigerated can be next to impossible.

In the wake of a disaster, small and impoverished communities rely on relief from others.  They do not get the attention the big cities get.  There is no "quick trip to Home Depot".  Driving 60 miles to the nearest open grocery store may not be an option.  Fuel may not be available to run a generator.

A solution

With off-the-shelf components, a small battery-backed solar electric "station" can be created.  Solar PV panels range in power from 250 watts to 360 watts and beyond.  A power inverter converts DC electricity to 120V AC electricity (the kind you have in your house), a deep cycle battery allows the inverter to run over night, and a charge controller allows the solar panel to charge and keep the battery at the system's optimum operating point.

A few additional components like a case to keep the components dry, some racking to place the module at the optimum angle, a few wires, fuses, and a few nuts and bolts combine to make a small system that is scalable in power production and/or energy storage.

Bill of Materials

The following table lists the main components that go into a portable power station:
* We can build 5 systems at a cost of $293 (because 5 charge controllers were donated)
* We can build 13 more systems at a cost of $378 (because 18 inverters were donated)

Why is the solar panel $0?

This is the key element to this fund raiser!  In my garage sit eighteen 250 watt PV panels that I was going to install on my roof.  I am donating my solar panels to this cause.   I am also working with my employer to obtain scratch and dent, b-stock, or other surplus material.

Thus, the single-most expensive component in the solution costs $0.

But for $500, you could buy a generator.

Yes, this is true.  But generators consume fuel and fuel may not be readily available.  

The proposed solar solution is relatively portable (as portable as a generator) and can simply be placed on the ground and pointed at the sun to provide emergency power where needed.

How are these funds being spent?

These funds will be used to source the remaining parts (the miscellaneous components beyond the solar panel, the charge controller, and the inverter) to complete the portable power stations.

While the ultimate beneficiaries are the recipients of the portable power stations, I will be withdrawing and managing these funds to supply parts for the build.  If there is a surplus then our first objective will be to source more solar panels to build more systems.

As we do not have a specific quota for systems (beyond the 18 solar panels I'm donating), any remaining funds will be used to manage logistics.  This includes the storage and delivery of the portable power stations to the regions that need it, when they need it.
Who are you?

My name is Miles Bintz .  I'm a computer engineer living in Cedar Park, Texas.  As a computer engineer my  background is a combination of electical engineering, digital design, and software engineering.  While my specialization is in software, my experience in my current role has provided me with ample power conversion and electrical engineering experience to assemble these systems.

Are you capable of building this?

Yes.  In addition to myself, I have an army of eager and capable volunteers whose skill sets range from electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, master electricians, and fabricators.  My co-workers and I are uniquely positioned to be able to build these systems quickly and with relative ease.

Who receives these power "stations" ?

We are working with volunteer organizations and relief organizations to identify the best recipients for these systems.  My employer's human resource department has provided contacts, and we've also made contact with the Red Cross.  

Originally, we were trying to gather requirements to build systems to meet particular needs but the requirements gathering effort was proving disruptive to volunteers.  We made a decision to build more (smaller) systems rather than fewer (larger) systems.  

With a well-defined capability established (250W), we will reiterate on our out-reach to place these systems in the most helpful way possible.

What good does 250 watts do?

250W could:

ø Recharge approximately 25 cell phones or 6 laptops per day.
ø Recharge batteries for flash lights and lanterns.  
ø Run a small fan 
ø Power a television or radio
ø Run a small refrigerator
ø Recharge handheld power tools

350W could:

ø Run a full sized refrigerator
ø Run a small pump

But system sizes are not fixed at 250W.  Based on need, these systems can be scaled to 500W (2 panels) or even 1KW (4 panels).  A 1KW power supply could power most of the household appliances you can imagine.

The goal, however, is not to power individuals' houses but, instead, to provide a tool for relief organizations to bring power to shelters, to their rural dispatch centers, and to help volunteers help others more effectively.

Where do these systems go after the emergency?

Honestly, we don't know.  We half expect to never see these systems again and that's okay.  If a relief group keeps these for future use that's fine.  If they are returned to us then we will use these funds to store them for the next emergency.

How are you deploying these systems?

We are reaching out to as many relief agencies as we can and trying to assess need and best fit.  Depending on the results of our outreach we will either donate these systems to existing aid groups (and let them do what they do best) or manage the deployment ourselves.

At this time, we have established contact with the Red Cross and are in a mutual discovery phase.

Have an idea on how to make this better?

Please leave a comment below, on Facebook, or tweet me @MilesBintz

Who else has donated?

We've received corporate assistance from:

SunPower Corporation
Victron Energy
GoPower Electronics

  • Monica Bintz 
    • $25 
    • 47 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $50 
    • 47 mos
  • Fabio Pereira 
    • $50 
    • 47 mos
  • Anonymous 
    • $250 
    • 47 mos
  • Brad Erickson 
    • $25 
    • 47 mos
See all


Miles F. Bintz II 
Cedar Park, TX
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