Off-the-Grid Internet Center

AnpilVwaAnpilVwa Registered Users Posts: 4
I want to help a school in Haiti get an Internet/computer learning program up and running, but of course in order to do that we need computers, and computers need electricity. I'm in charge of buying equipment and fundraising, and I have no idea where to start in terms of generating enough solar power for two or three laptops. We don't really have a lot of storage space, so I'm trying to work out something like the solar briefcases I've seen that can be moved around. Right now I'm trying to figure out just how much it's going to cost. I'm willing to play around and build things myself, but I need to have a number to tell the fundraisers ("in order to power the laptop, we need X amount of dollars"). Help?

Comments

  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    Welcome to the forum.

    In order to power the laptop(s) you need to know what laptops you have to power. In some cases they could be run directly from batteries recharged by solar, eliminating the cost and inefficiency of an inverter. In other cases ... it might be too difficult to bother with.

    The best thing would be to plug the intended loads into a Kill-A-Watt meter and get some real world readings on power usage under typical conditions. This is probably not going to happen in this case, so you're stuck with 'averaging' and dealing with the results when the power goes out.

    Which brings us to the word "Internet"; how will this be provided? Wireless adapter? Satellite modem? You need to know because it will mean more things that need to be powered.

    I have off-grid Internet access via satellite. It is expensive and it uses power. In fact my OG computer center uses ~50 Watts running, not including laptop (about 35 for the 'big' one, about 12 for the netbook). If this were on 24 hours a day it would uses as much as a full-size refrigerator: 1200 Watt hours.

    As far as cost is concerned, because there are options in how to supply the power after determining how much power you need to supply it isn't as simple as 'X' Watt hours = 'Y' dollars. One thing that will affect this is what equipment is available; shipping batteries and panels can be expensive, and sometimes you have to make compromises too overcome that.

    I think we could come up with a range of options based on intended use, but at some point one variable is going to have to be fixed so that the others can be limited. And after helping to provide power for clinics to save the bodies in Haiti it's only fair we help to provide power for Internet to rot the minds, right? :p
  • SurfpathSurfpath Solar Expert Posts: 439 ✭✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    This article from the Chicago Tribune regarding a similar project in Haiti may be of interest:

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-09-14/news/ct-x-c-iit-haiti-project-0914-20110914_1_laptops-bruce-baikie-solar-power

    I do not know her, but perhaps Dr Laura Hosman could guide you a little based on her experience setting up this (albeit much larger) project?

    There is a neat video about the laptop project here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2ZuAc06Ox4&feature=player_detailpage#t=492s

    It's a DC based system, designed to charge 500 laptops at a time if necessary. I am no IT technician, but perhaps your smaller "briefcase" project doesn't need to be battery based since laptops already come equipped with one? They ended up losing a bunch of gear in the shipping/customs process, so flying in with a 'briefcase' seems to be a great idea.

    Cheers,
    SP
    Outback Flexpower 1 (FM80, VFX3048E-230v, Mate, FlexNetDC) 2,730watts of "Grid-type" PV, 370 AmpHrs Trojan RE-B's, Honda 2000 watt genny, 100% off grid.
  • NorthGuyNorthGuy Solar Expert Posts: 1,913 ✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    If you're looking for a really cheap/compact solution, you can try to make use of laptop batteries, so that you do not need to use external batteries. Simply connecting controller (or even panels diectly) to laptop's "DC in" should work. But, of course, you may kill laptop's batteries or even laptops, so this solution has some risks. Also, laptop batteries often do not last for long, which may be a problem during cloudy weather or at night. The solution with external batteries will work better.
  • SurfpathSurfpath Solar Expert Posts: 439 ✭✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center
    NorthGuy wrote: »
    laptop batteries often do not last for long, which may be a problem during cloudy weather or at night. The solution with external batteries will work better.

    Agreed NorthGuy. I just googled and there is a Trojan dealer in Haiti. Perhaps a small bank could be picked up there after flying in with the rest of the gear?

    Their battery offerings here: http://vcanez.net/store/index.php?route=product/manufacturer/info&manufacturer_id=26

    Valerio Canez, S.A.
    Route De Delmas, No. 65
    Port Au Prince, Haiti
    Haiti
    Contact: Rene Max Auguste
    Telephone: +509.2298.3215
    Fax: +509.2298.3216
    Outback Flexpower 1 (FM80, VFX3048E-230v, Mate, FlexNetDC) 2,730watts of "Grid-type" PV, 370 AmpHrs Trojan RE-B's, Honda 2000 watt genny, 100% off grid.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,013 admin
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    Laptops are great (small/portable/light weight/pretty power efficient). Their drawbacks are not small (expensive, fragile hinges, expensive batteries that last 1-2 years, keyboards that can fail after 1-2 years of heavy use, easy to "misplace").

    I believe you will need to paper out a couple of different designs and list their pros and cons to see what will make the most sense.

    Also, look at what is available locally (solar and computer equipment wise)...

    My guess is that a small desktop computer with a "low power" mother board and disk drive is going to be more "effective" than a laptop.

    You also need to say what you plan on doing with the computers... You can probably get a very serviceable 8 watt or less computer that will run Linix or similar if all you want is word processing/running web browsers/standard programming classes/etc. and save the costs of Windows/Mac OS and their related overhead.

    I would suggest that a small/cheap desktop+monitor running at low power will be similar in power usage to a laptop and you can use a central solar+battery+AC inverter for powering everything.

    For a start, lets guess 30 watts per computer + 30 watts for Internet + 30 watts for lighting * 12 hours per day:
    • 3*30 watt + 30 watt + 30 watt = 150 Watt load
    • 150 Watt * 12 hours = 1,800 WH per day

    We recommend around 1-3 days of storage and 50% maximum discharge for long battery life. Choose 2 days as a good cost/benefit choice:
    • 1,800 WH per day * 1/0.85 AC inverter Eff * 2 days storage * 1/0.50 max discharge * 1/12 volt battery bank = 706 AH @ 12 volt battery bank

    To charge such a battery bank, we recommend around 5% to 13% rate of charge--Choose 10% as a good point (I would suggest minimum for this application):
    • 706 AH * 14.5 volts charging * 1/0.77 panel+controller deratings * 0.10 rate of charge = 1,329 Watt Solar array @ 10% rate of charge

    Assuming you get a minimum of 5-6 hours of sun per day (really depends on your location--If you have a lot of marine layer overcast, can really kill solar production), a 1,329 Watt array would produce:
    • 1,329 Watt array * 0.52 end to end system efficiency * 5 hours sun per day (min average) = 3,455 Watt*Hours per day

    Or about 2x your daily usage (based on my guesses)... That will give you some extra power for lights/radio/small fan/etc... You don't want to plan on using 100% of the available power per day--Solar is variable and batteries will be damaged if not properly maintained (i.e., over discharged or "deficit" charged where the batteries never really get back to >90% state of charge at least once or twice per week).

    For a "small system" like this, a MorningStar 300 Watt TSW AC inverter (also available in 230 VAC 50 Hz) would be a great match. Reliable, rugged, and efficient. Also includes ability to "sleep" when everything is turned off and a remote On/Off switch input.

    For a charge controller, you will need a Midnite or Outback charge MPPT charge controller (80 amps or more output). Or several smaller charge controllers for such a "large" array.

    You should also supply some "tools" for them to manage their battery bank... A couple of good quality glass hydrometers and thermometers to measure specific gravity. I would suggest an inexpensive DC Current Clamp/DMM (digital multi-meter), and you should think about a Battery Monitor (easy for a "teacher" to monitor the state of charge for the battery bank).

    And some reading about the care and feeding of batteries:

    http://www.windsun.com/Batteries/Battery_FAQ.htm
    http://www.batteryfaq.org/
    http://batteryuniversity.com/

    You might try "PMing" poster KeithWHare. He has been helping with solar power in Haiti for awhile. He would be a good source for local knowledge.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • stephendvstephendv Solar Expert Posts: 1,571 ✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    Have you considered using the one laptop per child systems: http://one.laptop.org/ really low power, and cheap :)
  • AnpilVwaAnpilVwa Registered Users Posts: 4
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center
    BB. wrote: »
    Laptops are great (small/portable/light weight/pretty power efficient). Their drawbacks are not small (expensive, fragile hinges, expensive batteries that last 1-2 years, keyboards that can fail after 1-2 years of heavy use, easy to "misplace").

    I believe you will need to paper out a couple of different designs and list their pros and cons to see what will make the most sense.

    Also, look at what is available locally (solar and computer equipment wise)...

    My guess is that a small desktop computer with a "low power" mother board and disk drive is going to be more "effective" than a laptop.

    You also need to say what you plan on doing with the computers... You can probably get a very serviceable 8 watt or less computer that will run Linix or similar if all you want is word processing/running web browsers/standard programming classes/etc. and save the costs of Windows/Mac OS and their related overhead.

    I would suggest that a small/cheap desktop+monitor running at low power will be similar in power usage to a laptop and you can use a central solar+battery+AC inverter for powering everything.

    -Bill

    Wow, thanks for all the information! Taking things piece by piece:

    "My guess is that a small desktop computer with a "low power" mother board and disk drive is going to be more "effective" than a laptop."

    I never even considered using desktops (most people just automatically assume Netbooks < Laptops < Desktops in terms of how much power they consume, I guess. Thanks for correcting me). I just did a very quick Google search for low-powered PCs, but it looks like I'm also going to need a low-powered monitor to go with them. Most of the ultra-low power monitors seem to be at least 200 dollars...are they really that much better than just using a cheaper netbook that uses about the same amount of power?

    I've know there's also some DIY projects out there for making really efficient desktops. If I can convince a friend of mine who's really good with computers or some local computer technicians to help out, that might be an option too.

    Anyway, besides cost and how much power I need, here is some more information about my concerns while picking out a computer:
    -Computers will mainly be used for web-browsing and word-processing.
    -However, there are some learning programs I'm checking out that use video and sound, so I'd like at least one of the computers to be able to run one of those.
    -Whatever we use has to be semi-portable, because classes will be moving around (this is also why I need briefcases instead of just setting up a solar panel array). Storage space is also a concern, although I guess "just build a bigger box" is an easy solution.
    -One thing I've considered is using tools like a Kindle that allow you to save text from the computer on them. The students could copy and paste the documents they want to read onto the Kindle.
  • AnpilVwaAnpilVwa Registered Users Posts: 4
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center
    stephendv wrote: »
    Have you considered using the one laptop per child systems: http://one.laptop.org/ really low power, and cheap :)

    Thanks for the suggestion, stephendv. I've heard a lot about the One Laptop Per Child program (they've actually donated a ton of laptops to Haiti, but not to the area I'll be going), but as such a high-profile charity they're pretty choosy about which projects they support, so I don't see a way of asking them for help.
  • AnpilVwaAnpilVwa Registered Users Posts: 4
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center
    Welcome to the forum.

    In order to power the laptop(s) you need to know what laptops you have to power. In some cases they could be run directly from batteries recharged by solar, eliminating the cost and inefficiency of an inverter. In other cases ... it might be too difficult to bother with.

    The best thing would be to plug the intended loads into a Kill-A-Watt meter and get some real world readings on power usage under typical conditions. This is probably not going to happen in this case, so you're stuck with 'averaging' and dealing with the results when the power goes out.

    Which brings us to the word "Internet"; how will this be provided? Wireless adapter? Satellite modem? You need to know because it will mean more things that need to be powered.

    I have off-grid Internet access via satellite. It is expensive and it uses power. In fact my OG computer center uses ~50 Watts running, not including laptop (about 35 for the 'big' one, about 12 for the netbook). If this were on 24 hours a day it would uses as much as a full-size refrigerator: 1200 Watt hours.

    As far as cost is concerned, because there are options in how to supply the power after determining how much power you need to supply it isn't as simple as 'X' Watt hours = 'Y' dollars. One thing that will affect this is what equipment is available; shipping batteries and panels can be expensive, and sometimes you have to make compromises too overcome that.

    I think we could come up with a range of options based on intended use, but at some point one variable is going to have to be fixed so that the others can be limited. And after helping to provide power for clinics to save the bodies in Haiti it's only fair we help to provide power for Internet to rot the minds, right? :p

    I'm still trying to figure out what sort of devices I'll be using - I'm guessing netbooks are the best option for what I'm doing but BB says I should also look into some low-power desktops. I'm thinking of having one device devoted to things that require sound/video, such as the learning programs I've found, and the other devices would be for word-processing and web browsing. If we're downloading something we would have to do it overnight (the service providers allow you to download large files overnight without it affecting your monthly cost), so I will have to be able to run one device for a few hours at night.

    Luckily, I don't think we're going to need satellite Internet - I know we're close enough to the Dominican Republic to pick up mobile WiFi from there, although I don't know if we're going to need a signal booster or not (I'm in America at the moment, so I can't test this).
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,382 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    For low power desktops check out Apple Mac Mini's. And yes you can load Windows on them too. In fact contact Apple they may support your charity.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,013 admin
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    There are now "laptops" that don't have internal batteries (basically, low power, smallish, easy to move PCs.--At least there were some of those a couple of years ago).

    But--with every plus (low power, cheap, easy/cheap to replace components like keyboards and i/o cards/drives) comes a minus (need to purchase a monitor--which has its own costs/power requirements).

    Even in my home, I am with 4 laptops/netbooks and one desktop system. I did get almost 8-10 years from an old compact laptop (really just sat on a small desk and was used every day). But, in general, if the laptops last more than 2-3 years without needed service (or going missing in action)--probably doing pretty well.

    I usually get 8+ years from desk top systems (with the occasional new keyboard or possible hard disk replacement).

    I also have been buying Kindles (really like the new paper white with back light--But it does poorly with PDF documents--The older keyboard kindles do better). Seem to work well (until it gets sat upon. :cry:). I put them in cases/covers just because they are so small/easy to misplace/get stepped on. There are even hacked O/S and applications for Kindles (may fix the PDF issue--very difficult to pan and scan PDF--if possible at all with Kindle Paper).

    If you end up with some sort of E-Book... There is an open source package called Calibre which does a pretty good job of conversion of content (open source, not DRM'ed) and library management.

    Unfortunately, I do not have any pipeline into computer systems and I would be doing the same thing as you. Asking friends, on the forum, and searching the web for systems/deals.

    The other issues is that word processors and text web surfing is pretty easy for any small/low power computer. Add video and sound--The power requirements can go up a lot. Also, the data requirements for Internet go up a lot too (I used to live quite nicely on dail-up and a data compression service from Earth Link)--I only went with cable modem when the operating system upgrades from windows were taking 24+ hours to download via dialup (once a month). Hauling my desktop computer a couple of times to work to get a upgrade/fix problems (researching/downloading drivers/tools) was my limit.

    The choice between some sort of Linix O/S vs Windows/Mac/et.al. will be another issue. Windows is so configurable and so easy to hose (changes, viruses, user getting into sections you don't want them too)--You may end up with going windows (with a re-install disk) vs Linix/"school based OS"/etc. so you don't become an IT worker instead.

    Choosing one or two computers for everyone vs three or more hardware/software configurations depending on needs of the student (beginning/advanced, school/home/portable, data on board vs networked, etc... I certainly do not know the right answers for your situation.

    Every choice you make will probably have upstream and down stream impacts... Why I suggest doing "paper designs" of several different options and see which will map best for your needs in Haiti.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • PhotowhitPhotowhit Solar Expert Posts: 5,656 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    You really need to define what your goal is before looking at equipment, though I guess knowing what is available is good in setting this up.

    You recently, could pickup Sylvania Windoz CE netbooks for as little as $60, they were wifi enabled and had a basic word processing program. If you need to go cheap that type of thing with a quality low wattage desktop and a large enough screen to display instruction, or even a LED projection monitor, to give instruction, might work.

    A 7 or 9" screen might be fine for young folks, I've been using a Aspire one with a 11.7" screen for the last 3 years, and I can't say enough about it. 64bit processor (C50) originally had a 7 hour battery, now lasts about 3 hours though that's with wifi enabled. It was $300 and came with a $100 gift card at Target, I have a generous friend who purchased 12+ as gifts, using the gift card for each future purchase. The 11.7" screen is large enough for my aging eyes.

    Don't even try to a "DIY" option as these don't fly with fund raising unless it's a completed thing that can be seen and held!

    There are a few USB power small monitors out there now, I thought they had come down in price, 9-15" originally a second monitor, Some require more power than the 'new standard' for USB 1amp @ 5v. LED projection display monitors might be the way to go, some as low as 10 watts can display a pretty good sized image and are compact, us a wall for a screen, or pick up a sheet of poster board on arrival.

    Be careful! I helped a church group sending a couple water purifiers there, and they were stolen quickly, one recovered (nearly a miracle!).
    Home system 4000 watt (Evergreen) array standing, with 2 Midnite Classic Lites,  Midnite E-panel, Magnum MS4024, Prosine 1800(now backup) and Exeltech 1100(former backup...lol), 660 ah 24v Forklift battery(now 10 years old). Off grid for 20 years (if I include 8 months on a bicycle).
    - Assorted other systems, pieces and to many panels in the closet to not do more projects.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    I agree with Photwhit.

    I'm on my second Acer Aspire One. The first one had a smaller screen (7") and ran Linpus version of Linux and despite bad reviews by some worked flawlessly. It burned up while traveling through the desert here last Summer. The new one has a 10" screen, runs Windows 7, and is cantankerous and slow compared to the old.

    But they're less than $300 even here in Canada. Have built-in sound and video (including camera) and would work for the sort of situation you describe I think. Only uses about 12 Watts max. Trouble is kids can be rough on equipment.
  • PhotowhitPhotowhit Solar Expert Posts: 5,656 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    Off subject a bit, but there are now water purification filters, by sawyers and maybe others, that use the filtering fine enough to catch nearly everything down to .02 microns small enough to filter viruses!

    http://www.sawyer.com/water.html#water2
    Home system 4000 watt (Evergreen) array standing, with 2 Midnite Classic Lites,  Midnite E-panel, Magnum MS4024, Prosine 1800(now backup) and Exeltech 1100(former backup...lol), 660 ah 24v Forklift battery(now 10 years old). Off grid for 20 years (if I include 8 months on a bicycle).
    - Assorted other systems, pieces and to many panels in the closet to not do more projects.
  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,183 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Off-the-Grid Internet Center

    Regarding water purification, here are some links to some, somewhat local, friends that have set up a non profit that they run after going to Peru for a Large charity. They build on site using minimal materials (old way was to use cement) mostly PVC pipe to make individual home sized water /filters purifiers.... Hopefully you can use some of this information.

    http://blogs.theprovince.com/2011/11/22/b-c-couple-bring-health-care-to-the-high-andesb-c-couple-health-for-the-high-andes/

    http://www.deseaperu.org/
     
    KID #51B  4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM
    CL#29032 FW 2126/ 2073/ 2133 175A E-Panel WBjr, 3 x 4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM 
    Cotek ST1500W 24V Inverter,OmniCharge 3024,
    2 x Cisco WRT54GL i/c DD-WRT Rtr & Bridge,
    Eu3/2/1000i Gens, 1680W & E-Panel/WBjr to come, CL #647 asleep
    West Chilcotin, BC, Canada
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