Solar Power 100
An Introduction to Systems Suitable for Use at Black Rock City
The following provides a basic overview about how solar power systems work. You can choose to purchase a complete off the shelf system, or build your own system. Either way, success begins with education. The RAT believes strongly that the first step in designing and building a successful system is to have a basic understanding of how renewable energy works. We encourage everyone who is new to using renewable energy for powering their installations to first complete the RAT's Solar Power 101 course. If you are interested in learning more please see information about the Solar Power 101 course on the education page.
There are three primary stages to the design and operation of renewable power systems:
Stage 1 - Analysis and Design
Step 1 - Complete a system or installation electrical load analysis to determine the desired system capacity. You can use the RAT's Solar Power System Estimator for completing an electrical load analysis. On the Burning Man Hive we offer the online class How To Do Camp Electrical Load Analysis to help people navigate the analysis process.
Step 2 - Design a renewable power system that will provide the amounts of electricity needed over the required time periods to energize your installation and that would be suitable for use in harsh environments such as the Black Rock Desert.
Below is an example of a design that was used to power the Burning Man 2022 "Waking Dreams" art installation "Spacecats Final Landing" by Ayda Keshtkar.
Yes! It does look complicated and the RAT's Technical Advisors mentor and assist artists with navigating designing their systems.
Diagram by Alex Aguilar
"Spacecats Final Landing" Solar Power Installation
Stage 2 - Logistics
Step 3 - Solar panels are bulky and susceptible to damage from rough-handling and vibration. Batteries are heavy. The entire system's components need to be transported, installed, operated and maintained, broken down, and then transported again for re-deployment, storage, or returning components to venders or other sources. In addition vandalism and theft is a recurring problem at Burning Man and we need to secure the non-panel components in strong cabinets or structures with locks.
Stage 3 - Finance
Step 4 - Based on the system's design and logistical requirements, budget the costs of purchasing, renting, leasing, or borrowing system components, transportation, storage, security and insurance coverage.
Solar panels take the energy from the sun's photons and convert it into a voltage that provides electric current flow. Panels are made up of a series of photo voltaic cells and can make up a group of panels called an array.
Most modern solar panels have power ratings that range from 100 to 400 watts. That means the panels can produce 100 to 400 watts of electricity per hour in ideal conditions.
Solar panels need to be durable enough to survive transportation and handling, wind, dust and occasional rainstorms. The panels should be installed on support structures so that the panels are secured from the wind and the risk of being runover. It is important to frequently clean the playa dust off the panels to maintain a high level of power output.
"The Solar Library"
A charge controller limits the rate at which electric current is added to or drawn from electric batteries to protect against electrical overload, overcharging, and may protect against overvoltage.
Converters and Inverters
Converters are electrical devices that convert the voltage from alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC).
Inverters are electrical devices that convert the voltage from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC).
Solar panels and batteries produce DC power. Your load may be DC and/or 120 Volt AC, which is common for all household devices in the US. The inverter converts DC power into 120 Volt AC power. Converters are used to raise or lower DC voltage such as dropping down 12 Volt DC to 5 Volt DC for a USB charging port.
"Empyrean Temple" Off The Shelf System
"Mystopia" Build Your Own System
Photograph by Philip Dupree
Batteries store the sun's energy and there are several types of batteries available that can support your system's power requirements.
The batteries, charge controller, inverter and converter should be stored together in one large and strong weather resistant cabinet or structure, and this option can reduce the risk of vandalism, theft, and accidental electrocution.
This photo shows the type of system that was used to power The Man at Burning Man 2022, "Waking Dreams".
"Starchild" Inside a Burning Man Project's Solar Power System
Power Supply Connections
The power supply connections need to be properly grounded and be able to meet the maximum power use requirements without overheating or causing circuit breakers to trip. The cables and electrical connectors must be properly insulated and never have any exposed wires or connections that could electrocute people who interact with the installations. A safe way to protect electric cables is to bury them 12 inches under the playa surface.
* The RAT does not endorse or promote any individual manufacture’s products.