Queerborhood WiFi

This is a proposal for setting up a wifi system on playa to tie into the new borg net and deliver WiFi to the queerborhood (7:30 sector). Per the borg’s recommendation, the main connection is a Ubiquiti NanoBeam.

We also need a pole mount junction box to hold the power injector, a surge suppressor, and the first wifi router. This connects to the antenna via a 50 foot cat 5e cable because the antenna must be 40 feet off the ground. We will also need power run to the box, but we have lots of extension cords.

Next we need a mesh WiFi system to reach throughout the camp. We also need to make sure it’s simple, reliable, and easy to use and that it allows us to remove troublemakers and limit download speed so people aren’t hogging the connection. Google WiFi is the obvious choice.

For neighboring camps in the Queerborhood that want to tie into our system, they will just need one or two cheap wifi repeaters. Our system is doing all the heavy lifting of connecting to the borg and distributing a balanced network throughout our camp and to the edges of the adjacent camps.

Total cost to us: $447.72

Simple Solar Powered Air Conditioning

In this post, I will show you how I built a very simple and affordable air conditioner from scratch. This is powered completely by solar power via USB and achieves up to a 40 degree temperature difference from the outside temperature.

Evaporative cooling is an old technology which was used by ancient civilizations long before the advent of electricity. You may have heard the term swamp cooler. This nickname comes from the evaporated water that is used to achieve the temperature change. If you implement it wrong, you will get a hot, humid tent instead of a cool tent; a swamp.

There are two main concepts that will be important. The dryer the outside air, the better. And there absolute MUST be constant airflow through the cooler into the tent and then out of the tent. If you set this up inside a closed tent with no exhaust vent coming out, it will not work. Many people make this mistake and wrongly conclude that these coolers don’t work. You must have at least as much air going out of your tent as there is coming in through the evaporative cooler.

I mentioned above that the temperature difference can be up to 40 degrees below the outside temperature. This depends on the dew point. If you are somewhere very dry like the black rock desert with its 0% humidity, then the maximum potential temperature difference is 40 degrees. With higher humidity, the potential temperature difference is less. The science behind this calculation is complex, but in most areas, you will see at least some benefit.

I have also added a major technical innovation which dramatically improves performance!

My Parts List

5 Gallon Bucket
5 Gallon Bucket (With Lid): This is where the magic happens.

 

Dryer Duct Disconnect
Dryer Duct Disconnect: This dramatically simplifies the process of setting up and taking down or storing and transporting the cooler and it’s actually cheaper than using a flange which doesn’t make any sense to me.

 

Dryer Duct
Dryer Duct: This will connect from the cooler to the fan just inside the tent. I went with a second duct after the fan but this is completely unnecessary in retrospect.

 

USB Fan

USB Powered Fan: This fan pushes 50 cubic feet per minute of air. The rule of thumb is that your evaporative cooler needs to change out all the air inside your tent every five minutes. So a 50 CFM fan will work for spaces up to 250 cubic feet. This is just under 7x7x7 or about the size of a Shiftpod. If you have a larger space, you might want to consider adding a second USB fan on a splitter, or just using a 120v fan instead of USB.

 

Duct Adapter

Duct/Fan Flange Adapter: The dryer duct will clamp tightly onto this flange adapter which then screws tightly onto the fan, providing a good seal. I decided to get a second one for the inside-facing part of the fan and then attach a second duct, but that’s not necessary.

 

Solar Panel

Solar Panel: I went with a larger one so that I can charge my phone as well, but this pump and fan draw less than ten watts total. So even this panel is larger than what’s necessary.

 

USB Pump

Water Pump: This pump has a connection for a 5/16″ hose which you will also need to pick up. I used two of these pumps in case one has a problem, but this is probably unnecessary.

 

Swamp Cooler PadSwamp Cooler Pad: This just needs to reach at least to the top of the bucket when inserted around the edges.

 

I have also used a few feet of chicken wire. This is optional, but should provide dramatic performance improvement.

 

Let’s Build It!

The first step is to set the duct adapter in the center of the top of the lid. Then trace a line around it with sharpie and cut that piece out, leaving a hole for the female side of the duct connector. I sealed up the edges with a hot glue gun. Probably anything like silicone caulk or even just tape would work fine. This connection will be under suction, so it’s not going to try to come apart.

Next cut out holes in the side of the bucket for air to flow in through the pad.  The plastic is pretty soft. I just used the knife on my leatherman. Remember, the hole coming out is just four inches across, so there’s no reason to go crazy with the holes in the sides of the bucket. Just make sure the surface area is at least as much as the hole on the top. Also keep in mind that the lower your holes go, the less water you will be able to put in the bucket, and the more often you will have to refill it. I did my holes right around the very top of the bucket. This works great. I might experiment with using some chicken wire or something to create some space between the material and the wall so that the surface area will increase.

Now set the pump down inside the cooler and run the USB cord out the holes you cut in the side. I decided to use two pumps in case something happens to one of them, but probably one is fine. I also decided to zip tie the usb cords to the handle of the bucket in order to prevent them from getting yanked and messing up the internal layout.

Fold the swamp cooler pad in half and insert it into the bucket, being sure not to leave any gaps for air to get through. The pad should stick out above the level of the lid. You will need to trim it down a couple inches to get it to fit tightly but without deforming when the lid is closed.

Next, fold the section of hose at one end and zip tie it to close it off. I added some hot glue inside the closed tip for good measure. Then poke lots of holes in one side of the tube, forming a drip line. I found that a soldering iron worked great for this. The material in the pad is designed to spread the water out and saturate itself via a drip line, so it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Now lay the hose along the top of the cooler pad (as shown above) with the holes pointed down, and run it down to the pump in the bottom of the bucket.

 

Optional Alternative Pad Design

I had the realization that only a few square inches of the pad is being exposed to the air with this design. Most of it is totally useless. The function of the pad is to maximize surface area exposed to water, so the more of the pad that’s exposed to the air, the better it will perform. We need something to hold the pad away from the wall a bit, so that the air can come in and reach all around the pad.

Some people work around this issue by drilling lots and lots of holes in the side of the bucket, but this really doesn’t solve the problem, it just increases the surface area somewhat, while severely limiting the amount of water the bucket can hold. The more water it can hold, the less frequently you have to remember to fill it.

We also need to be sure that the area inside the pad remains wide enough to admit the inside lip of the connector on the lid. It will extend down into the opening somewhat, providing a better seal. Here is my solution to this non-trivial problem;

Modified pad architechture

Using a few feet of chicken wire, I created a cylinder a few inches smaller than the bucket. Then I inserted the foam inside that cylinder, and added another smaller cylinder inside the foam to be sure that the lip of the lid connector would fit snugly inside. Then I ran the hoses through the two layers of foam and zip tied it all together. This is a major technical innovation over the design most people are using, where the pad touches the walls and only a small portion of it is exposed to the outside air.

This design also leaves about an inch between the bottom of the bucket and the foam, which makes it much easier to dry it out when you’re not using it. This will help prevent mold between uses. Most people I’ve seen essentially throw the pad away after each use and replace it. This is not necessary with this design. I did notice a dramatic increase in performance with this alternative design.

 

Put Together The Duct Assembly

Next up, we need to put together the top half of the machine, the duct assembly.

Connect the male side of the duct connector to the dryer duct. Connect the other side of the dryer duct to the fan adapter, and then connect the fan to the adapter. Make sure the fan is sucking air out of the duct instead of blowing air into the duct. Most fans have a diagram on one side which shows which way the airflow goes. I know the one I recommended has this helpful diagram.

You’re done! When you’re ready to go, snap the male end of the duct assembly into the female duct connector in the lid of the bucket. Fill the bucket with water and connect the USB cords to the solar panel. Keep in mind, these pumps will burn out if they run out of water, so don’t let that happen! Probably this design will use about half a gallon of water per hour. Therefore, if it’s filled all the way up, it will have about eight hours of runtime at least. Make sure to check on it often until you get to know it.

That’s it! Any time you have sunlight, you will have air conditioning!

Other Things To Consider

In my case, I’m using a tent which does not reflect light, so it made sense to cover the tent with a cheap piece of aluminet which deflects most of the light and heat from the sun. This dramatically improves the effectiveness of the cooler.

I also added an exhaust fan which draws warm air from the top of the tent into a second duct and pushes it outside. This alone would dramatically improve indoor temperatures in the mornings. Combining an exhaust fan with a swamp cooler means really great cool temperatures.

I do think that I will go ahead and use chicken wire to keep the pad off the wall in order to maximize the surface area of the pad.

As I mentioned above, if you have a larger space than the approximate size of a Shiftpod, you may want to consider adding a second USB fan on a duct splitter, or just using a 120v fan instead of USB.

One other thought is that you might want to include a thermostat. I am planning on testing out this one on playa this year.

Optional Exhaust Fans

Exhaust Fans

The idea with these is that they remove the hot air from the top of the tent. If the swamp cooler is on, then it will balance out the cool air coming in by pushing out the hot air at the top of the tent. If the swamp cooler is off, it will still suck a bit of air through it, but that air won’t be refrigerated. This should pair well with the cooler as outlined above to produce a really great air conditioned space.

These fan assemblies are fairly similar to the one described above, but with a couple of differences. I used a pair of USB powered fans. My thinking was that since these are lower speed, two would work better than one. Also my tent had two vents to cover up, so why not do two fans?

These exhaust assemblies connect to special panels I made out of vinyl and mylar. I used the same duct adapters as above, but this time I super glued them to the vinyl, and stitched the bolt holes down. These panels have one of these duct adapters on one side, and a velcro rectangle on the other side. These velcro rectangles match up with velcro I added to the tent around the built-in vents. Stitching velcro onto a tent is a non-trivial problem. You will need to use curved needles and probably pliers. I also made closed panels with the same velcro which can be placed over the vents instead of the fans, to keep them closed in case I don’t like these fans.

I attached velcro zip ties to the fan grills in order to fasten them to the struts inside the tent. These are super handy. I use them a lot more than I expected to. They are great for managing cables or hanging up lights.

Exhaust Fan Assemblies

 

I think I should be good this year on temperature in the mornings!

How I Made a Transparent Light-Up RGB/LED Hoodie!

Version 1.0

First let’s look at the finished product! It was inspired by the scene in the original Blade Runner when Decker  is chasing Zora and she is basically naked but wearing a transparent hoodie or poncho. I liked the ironic way that her clothes sort of Queered the expectation of clothes as hiding what’s underneath, and stuck just to the fundamental purpose of staying dry.

Also, this project was delayed slightly because I was rear ended on my way to the fabric store and had to wait nearly a week to go back! The price I pay for looking weird.

How To

Okay so the material came from Joann’s. It’s just clear vinyl. I bought a few yards of it and have tons left over for other projects. This was about $5/yard. Here’s what the whole thing looks like, turned off.

Hoodie Once I got home with the fabric, I laid out a basic H&M hoodie over the clear vinyl and cut out pieces of vinyl that were roughly the same size and shape as each piece of the hoodie. Then I stitched the pieces together with quilting thread and a hooked needle. This took some trial and error. Be aware that the tension of putting the hoodie on and taking it off will damage the seams, so for the collar and under-arms, you will want to do like four or five seams to keep it from coming apart. I would recommend using pliers to do the stitching because the vinyl is really tough and it will tear your fingers apart to try to do it with fingers.

In place of a zipper, I used velcro which I also bought at Joann’s. This also made for a sturdy surface to attach the lights to. I am a little nervous about the lights being delicate and getting damaged if they fold too much. It might be worth exploring a way of stiffening them up by attaching them first to a rigid piece of webbing or something?

Velcro instead of Zipper

The length of LEDs that I got was perfect to leave a daisy chain connector next to the hood. This way I can later add more LEDs going out both arms if I want. I think this might already be a lot. lol.

The main power coming into the lights is arranged to be down at the corner of the hoodie close to the pocket. This works out perfectly.

Power goes towards pocket

Here you can see the actual power hardware all hooked up. In the center, the controller connects the battery to the lights and accepts the command. The battery is the black box connected to the controller. The remote controls the colors, on/off, effects, etc for the lights. All of this fits comfortably into my pocket.

Power Complete

My Parts List

16.4 ft waterproof (playa proof) LED Strip Waterproof is the way to go. That means it will come coated in silicon which will keep the dust out at the burn.

72 watt Lithium Battery This is a really great battery which I plan to use for lots of different projects. It will put out 12v, 9v, and USB all at once. And it can charge from any 12v source. Simple adapters will allow it to charge from USB. It’s probably more than most people need, but a perfect battery for this project.

Lessons Learned

I feel like this will not keep working forever. It seems like the LED strip is a lot less strong than I expected it to be. I think it will be fine for the burn plus a few parties throughout the year. Version two will probably

These lights take a lot of power, and they’re really bright. The power consumption is a little confusing. Purple and white light uses a lot of power (about 40 watts), where red, green, and blue use just about 13 watts each. Also, you can turn the brightness down. If you run them at half brightness and set the colors to cycle, this battery will power the lights all night. Then it simply needs to be recharged during the next day. This battery can power the lights on full-white at full-brightness for about two hours. (That’s remarkable because it’s a super lot of power.) But with lower brightness and non-white light, it can last a lot longer.

Probably it would be easier to use usb-powered strip lights with a smaller USB battery, thought USB strips are much shorter so you would need to use several of them.

Another alternative would be to use EL wire instead of LEDs. This is great but not very bright, and you can’t control the color or make it do fancy effects. One other benefit is that you can use USB to power EL wire. So that simplifies your power supply.

Switching Automatically to Backup Power

This is a proposed solution to a complex problem. At my camp, we have several large industrial fridges as part of our kitchen. Our main power source is a large 45kva generator. This is a rental which is maintained daily by the vendor, and yet sometimes it fails.

We consider the fridges to be a mission-critical part of the camp since our camp has central food production. If the fridges fail and the food spoils, then everyone would go hungry. This can not happen.

The fridges we use are actually large chest freezers with added thermostats which shut them off when they reach fridge temperatures; so they become super efficient fridges instead of freezers.

Here are two diagrams showing normal conditions and emergency conditions under my proposed solution;

Normal Operations Diagram

Emergency Operations Diagram

Recommended Equipment;

Go Power! TS-30 30 AMP Automatic Transfer Switch

I have done a great deal of research and I strongly believe this is the right option for our needs. There are very few products designed for this automatic transfer use-case, and this one is the right size for what we need. All of the other automatic transfer switch options are utility-scale or very complex to implement. This one is a simple, easy-to-use box which will require minimal wiring on our part to integrate it into this proposed solution.

Yeti 3000 Lithium

Having a Yeti 3000 or two would be enormously beneficial to us throughout the year and at the burn. This box is basically interchangeable for a generator and it uses no fossil fuels. This means we can use it safely anywhere we need a few thousand watts of power throughout the year, even indoors. This would be great for powering sound, lights, etc.  This would be enormously helpful for other events we are working at, such as Decompression or our annual street fair.

2019 Gear List: Exploring Shiftpod Alternatives

Last year, I took way too much stuff. This year, I am taking far less stuff and focusing on a smaller and more efficient footprint. Home v3 has about a quarter the footprint of Home v2. It’s not just about bringing less stuff, it’s about being more effective. Aluminet stretched over a small light-proof shelter combined with an evaporative cooler should provide the best tent experience I’ve had at the Burn. It should be darker, cooler, and quieter than my past burns. Here’s how I’m planning to do it;

Home Sweet Home v3.1

I have decided to go with this blue knockoff Shiftpod 2 for my tent this year. It’s a bit roomier than the shiftpod mini or its knockoffs. That means I can bring a queen-size mattress and an evaporative air conditioner. This is still much smaller than my ridiculously enormous tent from last year.

Blue Shiftpod

Incidentally, this one works perfectly with the lag bolts I already bought and therefore the impact driver I got last year.

I will cover the tent with a cheap sheet of 12′ x 18′ 80% Aluminet which should stretch tightly over the whole tent, except the entrance side which faces north. This will block almost all light from reaching the tent’s walls. This aluminet covering idea would also work well with a real Shiftpod 2 . A smaller piece of aluminet would work perfectly on a Shiftpod mini (or knockoff). Aluminet is something I just learned about last year, and it seems like a magic bullet for issues relating to light and heat in the mornings on playa.Aluminet

 

Tent Orientation

Last year, I intended to orient north. I set up my enormous dome-tent facing north, but there were some logistical changes in the camp after I had set up. This put another structure essentially right in front of my entrance. Luckily I had a back door too, but this meant I ended up facing south and getting direct light essentially all day. This meant a lot of unnecessary light. This year, I will make a special effort to have my front door facing north, and to have every other side covered completely in aluminet to prevent as much heat and light from reaching the tent as possible.

I will again bring two folding camp chairs which I found for just $4/each at Walmart several years ago.

Intex Self-Inflating Queen-Size Mattress

I am again bringing an Intex self-inflating queen-size mattress. This is very comfortable for single or double occupancy depending on the night. It works perfectly with the power bank and microgrid. I had considered bringing a folding cot instead, but I would rather luxuriate a little and get as much rest as possible. This mattress goes inside a small mattress tent which I bought last year. This provides extra darkness and a second layer of thermal isolation as well as excellent protection from dust. I zip this up when I get up, and leave it shut until I’m ready for bed.

Realistic Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is a contentious subject. I am a member of the Facebook group, “Burning Man Generators and Electrical Systems.” You would not believe how many people think they can run a large home air conditioner off a single battery all week or a single solar panel. It’s hilarious.

A far better solution is evaporative cooling. This can be done with almost zero electricity, and at the extremely low humidity of the Black Rock Desert, there is a potential for up to 40 degree temperature drop inside the Shiftpod. There are a few pitfalls which many people fall into but are easily avoided. The biggest thing is that there must be constant airflow both into the space and out of the space.

Evaporative cooling works by adding humidity to dry air which causes it to get much cooler. That air is pumped into a space, cooling the surfaces. Then the now-warm air in the space must be pumped outside while new cool air is pumped in. I have seen many failed evaporative cooling implementations which simply humidify a space without exchanging the air. This does nothing to cool the space, it just makes the space hot and sweaty.

I adapted the many burner evaporative cooling designs and made some big improvements. You can check out what I did and how by clicking here.

Power

I love this power bank. It is cheap, powerful, and reliable. At under $200, it has essentially the same functionality of the Yeti 400 Lithium which costs three times as much. It provides all that power through USB and a 120 volt outlet. This is an excellent option for a small camping set up or essentially anyone who isn’t trying to refrigerate anything. This power bank allows me to run my evaporative air conditioner, charge my phone over a hundred times, and power the lights inside and outside my tent for over a week!

I found this great set of USB powered lights which worked out great last year. They will be the main light source for inside the tent.

This is really overkill since my camp has its own microgrid, but this will make a great backup. Also, our microgrid is under constant development and growth, and sometimes it may not be completely in place during placement. Having this just eliminates any electric uncertainty.

Food

I bought all this food for last year, but didn’t end up eating any of it because my camp provides food. I included the list here because it may be helpful for people who want suggestions! I will probably bring one of two in case I get hungry or miss a meal.

Breakfast:

Lunch/ Dinner:

Bike v2.1

My bike from last year worked out really well. I am going to use the same design this year with some minor tweaks. I got rid of all batteries and switched everything to run off of USB instead!

Roadmaster 26: This is the same model bike I have taken to each burn. They have proven very versatile and reliable. And they go back to Walmart after!

USB Bike Lights: Two strings of these lights run to a dust-proof power bank in the basket. This is able to run the lights for weeks on a single charge, and it recharges via built in solar panel. This technically makes the bike a microgrid in its own right!

Shelf: I added this shelf to the back of the roadmaster. It allows a milk crate to rest comfortable on the back. This makes it a lot easier to bring beer and snacks around with me on the playa.

Front Basket: I added this basket to the front of the bike. While the back basket is great for food and drinks, the front is great for thinks like the power bank, the lock, spare tubes, tools, etc. You don’t want to find yourself in need of these things and not have them handy!

Other Accessories: I found a kit for under $20 at Walmart which contained a lock, pump, bicycle bottle, headlamp, tail light, and a bell. These kinds of kits are usually available and well worth the $20.

Don’t Forget…

One last thing which I suggest is Mack’s silicone earplugs. These are one of the best products I’ve ever spent a few dollars on. I can’t overstate the importance of some kind of sound protection for sleep. There is just no way you are going to sleep at Burning Man without earplugs, and these are absolutely the best option. I have tried many solutions to this problem and I can’t recommend these enough.

Mack's Earplugs

Takeaways

Another amazing year at Burning Man! The man burn was amazing as you can see in this video…

 

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The man has burned! 365 days until the man burns.

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Probably the most dangerous thing I saw was this installation which I did NOT climb…

The Temple Galaxia was beautiful as expected. What a stunning homage to the incredible work of Isaac Asimov.

 

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Your days are numbered, Temple. Tonight is the night!

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My camp stunned as well. I am so proud to call Comfort and Joy my home.

 

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Missing home.

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Winner Is

Of everything I brought with me, my favorite possession during the burn was definitely my blender bottle. I actually got it for free from Soylent when I first started but they are just a few bucks on Amazon. (I took the mixer ball out before heading to Burning Man.)

I found that this was the perfect drinking vessel on playa. It doesn’t hold flavors between drinks. I dropped it many times and it never came open. It snaps easily to anything with a carabiner. And it rinses clean with no hassle.

Lessons

The two-tent strategy was a complete failure. If anything, it just made it hotter in the mornings, and it was way too big. I felt like I was hogging half the playa with my set up.

I’m very glad that I brought my own power in the form of a battery. I didn’t need any grid power the whole burn. I will certainly do this again, though I may get something bigger because….

I want to bring a swamp cooler next year. I have plans to build something very efficient and solar powered. 😀

Having a self-inflating mattress was nice, but I think I’d rather just use a cot. Topping off the mattress pressure every night was a hassle and made me feel like an obnoxious neighbor. Also it takes up a lot of space, and I don’t like the squishiness. I would prefer something firmer next time (Like a cot).

Next Time

As is a common theme on my blog, I feel like I brought too much stuff.

I think I will ditch the mattress next time, and both tents. Instead, I want to do either a Shiftpod 2 or some kind of stealth trailer. Everyone had a lot of positive things to say about Shiftpods, and I have never heard anyone complain. Also, the fact that they are impossible to find used tells me that their owners like them.

Micro Grids and Burning Man

Elon Musk famously came up with the idea for Solar City while at burning man, observing the ubiquitous microgrids which power the temporary city. Every home should work this way, he reasoned. At Burning Man, each city block has many microgrids. They range from very small to very large, and they take many forms. There are also several online communities devoted to discussing issues related to these microgrids at Burning Man.

Incidentally, nearly a hundred billion dollars of venture and philanthropic funds are slated to be poured into the development of microgrids to electrify the developing world in the coming decades. Throughout human civilization, we are seeing a rise of microgrids taking over the work traditionally done (or not done) by larger civic grids. Building civic grids which power large areas is enormously expensive and very technically complex. Many governments in the developing world are not able to do this. Maybe people simply choose to manage their own resources and live off grid, more sustainably. There are any number of reasons why a microgrid is the best solution to power needs in many situations.

Burning Man offers a unique and valuable testing ground for this technology which fosters innovative solutions for this important problem facing humans everywhere. I have an interesting perspective on each of the three types of microgrids I will explain in this post.

What Is a Microgrid?

I like this definition from Wikipedia;

A microgrid is a localized group of electricity sources and loads that normally operates connected to and synchronous with the traditional wide area synchronous grid (macrogrid), but can also disconnect to “island mode” — and function autonomously as physical or economic conditions dictate.

In this way, a microgrid can effectively integrate various sources of distributed generation, especially renewable energy sources, and can supply emergency power, changing between island and connected modes.

For our purposes, I will define a microgrid as a system for powering multiple devices which may use batteries to temporarily store electricity, and which can draw power from many types of sources including generators, solar panels, or other grids. We will see that this definition allows us to consider lots of interesting examples.

My Experience With A Neighborhood-Scale Microgrid

At Burning Man, I camp with Comfort & Joy. We have an area approximately the size of two city blocks where over 150 people live throughout Burning Man. We are also visited by many thousands of people who participate in our events and community spaces. We have a relatively complex challenge with our microgrid. We need to power many large performance art projects, a gym, an air-conditioned cuddle dome, several event and community spaces, two sound stages, two instant-hot showers, and a full commercial kitchen including several industrial freezers and refrigerators.  This is no small feat for a microgrid!

The infrastructure is pretty straightforward. A large rented 45kw diesel generator is the primary power source. (This is about four times what we need, but it’s what was available on late notice after our original rental company backed out.) The generator runs to several spider boxes which distribute the power around the camp through standard extension cords and plug-in strips. We had over a hundred tents, and each one had power running directly to it.

Most Burning Man camps have microgrids which work in much the same way as ours. Some camps have many RVs which need higher loads and more spider boxes to distribute power, but other than that, this layout is essentially the standard format for the neighborhood-scale microgrid, both at Burning Man and the world outside.

In the future, the biggest potential improvement would be adding batteries and a renewable energy source such as wind or solar. This could replace the diesel generator as the primary source of power. It would mean becoming less reliant on polluting fossil fuels, and less reliant on the generator as a large single point of failure. Many camps are already using hybrid-diesel/solar microgrids like this.

The Home-Scale Microgrid

Comfort and Joy is an example of a camp with a microgrid about the size of a city block. What this means is that I have a tent with all my stuff inside, and an extension cord running out to our neighborhood-scale microgrid. I plug into that to get power. In turn, I use that power for my devices, costumes, lights, to inflate my mattress, etc. This is an example of a home-scale microgrid (or in this case tent or RV).

Many camps are less organized, and have no neighborhood-scale microgrid for campers to plug into. In those cases, each tent or RV will often have a generator, wind turbine, or a few solar panels to provide power. This power is usually stored in batteries, and then used as needed. This is analogous to off-grid tiny homes or cabins. In fact, many tiny homes make the trek to Burning Man already including their own home-scale microgrid.

Storing electricity is a challenging problem. Most people try to use lead-acid batteries such as car batteries or deep cycle batteries. These have many disadvantages. Setting them up and using them is technically complex and often counter-intuitive, especially if the microgrid is using more than one battery. Lead-acid batteries will also require almost a day of solid charging to get to full capacity. This just isn’t possible if your power source is solar or a generator. Both will always face interruptions due to dust, leaving your batteries uncharged.

A better way of storing electricity is with lithium batteries. These are the same types of batteries found in cell phones and laptops. They charge very quickly and provide a much simpler solution to the problem. The downside is that they can be slightly more expensive, but luckily there is a whole industry around products that solve this problem. The big player is Yeti with its GoalZero Lithium battery packs.  Products like this make home-scale microgrids a cinch. Lithium battery packs like this will accept power from essentially any source: solar panels, generators, standard electrical outlets, or car cigarette lighters. They store a lot of power very quickly. Then they let you use it via USB ports, standard electrical outlets, or even via cigarette adapters. These products are a very good solution to the power storage problem. In fact, I ran my entire burn this year off of one of these without using any other source of power such as generator or solar. One big battery was more than enough for all my needs.

Keep in mind there are tons of cheap, excellent alternatives to GoalZero products. Pictured below is the one I am using, the Poweradd ChargerCenterⅡ 370Wh. It is essentially exactly the same as the Yeti GoalZero Lithium 400, but less than half the price. It still has a standard 120 volt outlet, plus USB ports, and it can still accept power from essentially any source: generator, solar panels, or car cigarette adapter. I am using USB-powered christmas lights for interior lighting in the tent. USB is an excellent way of powering things. It is designed to use very little power while accomplishing the same things. This box on a single charge can power those lights for the entire event while also recharging my cell phone hundreds of times. I’ll also use this to power some small speakers for BMIR radio and Spotify.

Using USB Is MUCH Better Than Using 120 Volt

Any time we step power up to 120 volts, there is waste. In fact, there is a lot of waste. I the past, I brought a charged car battery to Burning Man which I hooked up to a cigarette lighter socket. I used normal car accessories for all my needs. I even had an inverter to get 120 volts, but mostly I stuck to cigarette and USB connections. Plugging my cell phone charger into an inverter running off of a battery was enormously wasteful. The power savings is huge if you stay at 5 volts (USB) or 12 volts (Cigarette Lighter) instead of going up to 120 volts and then back down to USB through a phone charger or something like that. Just run a car charger straight off the battery!

USB-powered versions of many common electronics are available and they use less power. An essentially identical string of LED christmas lights which plugs into the wall will use a lot more power than one that plugs into USB. More on that in the next section.

The Mobile Microgrid

At Burning Man, every person simply must have a bike. The city is vast. There just is no way to get around without a bike. Because of many hazards at night, everyone is required to cover themselves and their bikes in lights. This prevents many types of dangerous accidents, but it also poses a problem. My first burn, I brought a bunch of Ikea AA-powered Christmas light strands. These worked great, but I went through a half-dozen AAs each day. This is very wasteful, and there is a simple alternative.

You guessed it, USB! This is an amazing and far superior solution to using AA batteries. A simple solar battery pack turns your bike into a mobile microgrid. Just one strand of $7 USB-powered Christmas lights is very bright and can run for weeks off of a battery pack like this. I ended up using two strands just for fun. Having all this power available on your bike also means you can add other cool accessories like bluetooth speakers or plasma balls and of course it can also recharge your devices. A USB-powered microgrid on a bike is more sustainable, more flexible, and less stressful than trying to swap out moopy batteries several times a night.

How To Build a Microgrid

A microgrid is a relatively small power grid which takes electricity from a source, stores it for use, and distributes it to devices. This can range from the size of a town to a neighborhood to a single home. The principles are the same.

Based on this definition, chances are you already have one or more microgrids in your life. In a way, your car is like a microgrid. It generates power, stores it, and then distributes it to devices like cell phones which plug into it. RVs and tiny homes area also good examples of microgrids.

Step One: Sizing Your Grid

The first step is to determine how much power your grid needs to deliver. A single home will typically draw an average of approximately 1,000 watts. But then again. An air conditioner can easily draw at least that much. If you’re not sure how much power you need, check out this helpful article on estimating power requirements before you continue.

Step Two: Picking Power Sources

There are two broad categories of power sources for microgrids; renewable and non-renewable. Renewable is typically going to be more expensive initially and much cheaper in the long-run. Non-renewable is often cheaper initially but more expensive in the long run.

The most important thing to consider is how much power you need. The math gets a little complex, but a good rule of thumb is that you should never plan to use more than half of your capacity. If you calculate that you need 1,000 watts, then you need your grid to be capable of producing at least double to triple that amount. There are two big factors at play here. Power ratings are typically given in terms of the root mean square of the actual draw. This is a sort of logarithmic average which means the actual requirements can jump momentarily well outside the official number.

The other related issue is inductive loads. Things like fans, air conditioners, refrigerators, and stereo equipment will often draw 300-400% of their rated wattage while they are spinning their moving parts up to speed. That 100 watt mini fridge will likely draw 300-400 watts just for a moment while it’s starting up. The effect of this is that when you first flip the switch and turn your grid on, it can experience much higher demand than you may have estimated. If this amount is too high, the breakers will simply trip  and the grid will shut back off. Any momentary interruption in power can lead to everything on your grid drawing very high current when the power is restored, multiplying your troubles. So make sure to plan for more capacity than you think you will need.

Non-Renewable Sources Of Electricity

The classic example of a nonrenewable power source for a microgrid is the generator. Getting a generator is typically a good place to start, as renewable sources can often face periods where little to no power will be generated. In those moments, a generator can help fill the power gap.

 

Probably the most popular generator in the microgrid community is the Honda eu2200i. This generator is very quiet and very reliable. It can put out 2200 watts as the name suggests. They can also be daisy chained to add more power, though 2200 watts is more than enough power for most homes or RVs, and likely enough for a small community of campers at an event like Burning Man.

 

This little guy is very popular as a white-label product. Many stores like Harbor Freight and Home Depot will sell these under different brand names. It puts out 1,000 watts. I found one of these for just $50 with a two year warranty and I’ve gotten years of use out of it. I primarily use this to power my DJ gear when I do parade floats or off-grid events. This would be perfect for many smaller microgrids such as a single RV/camper at an event like Burning Man. In a pinch, it could easily serve as a perfect emergency backup option for a medium sized set up.

Renewable Sources Of Electricity

The cheapest and most popular example of a renewable source of electricity today is solar photovoltaic or “solar panels.” Before the current trade war, and presumably afterwards, solar power prices were about $1/watt. This is much cheaper than the cost of a generator, considering ongoing fuel prices. Today, you can typically buy solar panels for about $1.50/watt. (Thanks, Mr President for inexpertly jacking up prices for no reason!) But this price will likely go back down once more competent leadership is in place in Washington. Even with this current price jump, solar is still the cheapest source of electricity today, though sunlight can not always be counted on.

Here is an example of the type of deal that can be found today on solar panels. Amazon is selling these 100 watt solar panels for about $136 each. This is much cheaper electricity than going the generator route. If you wanted to go 100% solar instead of the 2200 watt generator I linked to above, you would need to spend $2997.44 on panels. This is equivalent to the cost of using that generator for just a few weeks. It’s a no brainer. BUT, you will likely need to make enough power to compensate for dark periods or augment your solar power with a backup generator in case of cloudy days.

Wind power is another excellent option. Wind gets mixed reviews but my understanding is that it can be very reliable and very long-lasting. For approximately the same price as solar, you can get the same amount of power. Each of these turbines produce 1200 watts. A pair of them produces more power than the popular generators linked to above.

Keep in mind solar power depends on ideal conditions with the sunlight and wind power depends on ideal conditions with the wind. These are both excellent power sources but there will always be darkness and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. The key is proper storage and having a backup generator just in case.

Step Three: Storing Power

There are two main approaches to the topic of power storage in the context of microgrids; lead-acid and lithium.

Lead acid batteries often seem like a simpler solution. Simply hook them together and hook up a charger and inverter and you’ve got 120 volts! The problem is that in practice, these batteries can take days to recharge and you can only safely use up to half of their capacity (assuming they are deep cycle and not standard lead acid) before they start to take damage and fail. In the best case scenario, these batteries will only get a few hundred charge cycles before they fail. My advice is not to use lead acid batteries.

Lithium batteries charge very quickly and hold lots of power. These are the batteries in your cell phone and laptop. There are tons of great, simple products which solve the power storage problem using lithium batteries. On the small scale, there are USB battery packs. On the larger scale there are Yetis and the many cheap duplicates available online. These will all recharge from many sources and provide power as needed. This is the best way to store power in a microgrid in my opinion.

The Yeti GoalZero 3000 Lithium is a perfect example. This simple box will recharge from solar panels, generators, a standard plug-in, a car, anything. And it stores 3,000 watts for your microgrid. Then you can plug your devices, RV, or even your house into it. These boxes also come in smaller wattages, all the way down to 400 watts which is what I use for my personal microgrid at burning man.

There are many cheap duplicate products for the Yeto GoalZero line of lithium batteries. This is the one I use. It stores 370 watts which it can accept from solar panels, generators, a car, a plug-in, anything. Then it provides that power through USB and a 120 volt outlet. This is an excellent option for a small camping set up or essentially anyone who isn’t trying to refrigerate anything. In my case, this battery pack allows me to charge my phone over a hundred times, inflate my mattress, and run lights in my tent as well as christmas lights around my tent while camping for over a week at burning man.

If you visit the amazon page for this battery pack, you will see there are hundreds of very similar products, all of which will cheaply solve the storage problem using lithium batteries which recharge quickly and provide lots of power when you need it.

Example 1

 I’m going to a music festival and I just need to recharge my phone and laptop a couple times during the trip.

Easy! Get a USB solar panel and a USB battery pack. This will provide you with more than enough electricity for your needs! I have linked to the ones I have. You could probably go with smaller options than these suggestions depending on your needs.

Example 2

I have a yurt (or a shiftpod) and simply want to run an air conditioner for a while to cool it down at night, while also recharging my phone and laptop. I’m tired of running it off of a generator. It takes too much gas and its not sustainable!

A small air conditioner like this one will be more than enough to cool a space this size. For cooling a space with less than 300 square feet, a 5,000-10,000 BTU air conditioner will be sufficient. The rule is that your air conditioner will need about 1/10 the BTUs in watts while running, and double that amount when starting up. The air conditioner I linked to above is rated at 8,000 BTUs, so it needs 800 watts while running and 1600 while starting up.

This is a perfect job for a Yeti GoalZero 1000. This battery pack will allow the generator to start up and run for about an hour on a single charge. This should be plenty of time to cool down a space this size depending on the materials the shelter is made of. Alternatively, the Yeti GoalZero 3000 will run the air conditioner for almost four hours on a single charge.

You can use solar to recharge your battery pack during the day. Nine solar panels will do the trick. Assuming you use the ones I recommended, you can connect them to the Yeti in sets of three, using these adapters.

Example 3

I need to provide power to a medium-sized community of 150 people at burning man. Each person is limited to ten watts of usage. (They can only use LED lights or charge small devices.) We have a generator which we usually use, but we want to use some solar to take a bite out of our fuel costs.

Solar is the way to go! 150 people limited to ten watts each is just 1500 watts. I would pick up a Yeti GoalZero 1000 for $1300 (or under $1,000 at Costco). This can put out 1500 continuous watts, and double that during surges. This should more than meet your needs, but you could go with a larger battery like a Yeti GoalZero 3000 if you want to be extra comfortable. The larger one has the added benefit of wifi monitoring, so you can monitor power consumption and watts available from the comfort of your tent.

To charge this lithium battery pack, you can use 9 100w solar panels at $136 each for a total cost of $1224.  This is likely plenty of power to refill the battery, but you will still have your generator to fill any gap due to darkness or over-use. If you wanted to increase the amount of power your community can use, simply build two or three of these solar microgrids.

You can plug your existing distribution system into this battery pack and you’ll be up and running.

This would have a total cost of about $2,224 and eliminate most future fuel costs. If you end up needing to use the generator to meet demand, simply add a few more panels next time. This estimate does not include hardware related to mounting the panels and connections between the panels and the Yeti.

This solution likely breaks even in the first year.

2018 Gear List

This year, I have changed almost all my gear. For the first time, I have my own complete microgrid and a double-tent. I also replaced almost all non-rechargeable devices. This year, my burn will be far more sustainable and very low stress. My gear list makes all that possible.

Home Sweet Home v2

This pic is from my beta burn. I will update the photo after the real burn. Click here for a video tour of the tent! You can see a fold up table to the inside-left, and behind it the smaller tent housing the mattress. One unexpected positive with this tent is the way the tent material hangs inside the fiberglass superstructure. This means that a tarp draped over the tent is several inches away from the tent material, providing airflow in between and very effective insulation from sunlight and heat.

Having a double tent was a major priority in order to delay morning sun and heat from reaching me as I desperately struggle to sleep in. I also wanted to maximize my energy independence and improve over my previous

Big Tent: This provides shade and shelter from the elements. Everything but my bike goes inside. It is secured by rebar wit tennis balls on the ends of each for safety.

Smaller Tent:  This is a smaller tent made of dark material which fits snugly around the mattress. It goes inside the larger tent. This small tent provides a dark space for sleeping which is protected from dust and slows the heat from getting to the sleeper.

Self-Inflating Mattress: This is SO handy. Last burn, I had one that needs to be inflated by hand. At some point, it got a slow leak which required constant work to keep it inflated. Eventually we just gave up and slept on the ground. Never again! Just flip the switch and it’s back to 100%!

Two Coolers: These were on sale for just $15 a piece. Each one holds 72 cans!

Two Chairs: I can’t find a similar deal today, but when I bought these two fold-up camping chairs, they were $5 each!

One Cot/ Couch: I got this for free, and I think it will make a great couch or guest bed.

USB String Lights: For energy efficient indoor illumination. These are pretty bright and can run off of a power bank for the entire burn.

Power Source: I have my own microgrid inside the tent running off of this power bank. It can supply almost 400 watt hours which should be far more than I need for the entire burn. It is comparable to the Yeti 400 Lithium which is more than double the price.

Stove/ Dishes: This kit is so great. I really really like it and it was so cheap. It includes two small pots, a pan, a stove, silverware, a bowl, a sponge, and a carrying pouch. All of this is less than $30. I bought the giant fuel container from REI for $5. It has lasted me several years and still feels pretty full.

For food, I picked up a bunch of meals ready to eat including all of these below. I bought these before learning that my new camp, Comfort and Joy provides meals for campers. I anticipate sharing many of these meals I bought with neighbors and other friends.

Breakfast:

Lunch/ Dinner:

My Bike v2

I decided to try to get rid of as many battery-using devices as I could. The solution seemed obvious; USB!

Roadmaster 26: This is the same model bike I took to the last burn. They have proven very versatile and reliable. And they go back to Walmart after!

USB Bike Lights: Two strings of these lights run to a dust-proof power bank in the basket. This is able to run the lights for weeks on a single charge, and it recharges via built in solar panel. This technically makes the bike a microgrid in its own right!

Shelf: I added this shelf to the back of the roadmaster. It allows a milk crate to rest comfortable on the back. This makes it a lot easier to bring beer and snacks around with me on the playa.

Front Basket: I added this basket to the front of the bike. While the back basket is great for food and drinks, the front is great for thinks like the power bank, the lock, spare tubes, tools, etc. You don’t want to find yourself in need of these things and not have them handy!

Other Accessories: I found a kit for under $20 at Walmart which contained a lock, pump, bicycle bottle, headlamp, tail light, and a bell. These kinds of kits are usually available and well worth the $20.