Blog Post

Emergency Services at Burning Man: Off-Grid Power with SimpliPhi Batteries

This year marked the first time the Emergency Services Clinic at Burning Man made the effort to go off-grid. Burning Man is an annual gathering in the western United States at Black Rock City – a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada, approximately one hundred miles north-northeast of Reno. Famous for its back-to-nature ethos, it seemed fitting to use solar as a way to achieve off grid access to power. But what about in the dark of night, when most of the festival’s activity takes place? That’s where SimpliPhi Power batteries really made a difference.

All the makings of an off-grid solar array: solar panels, inverter, wiring and, of course, SimpliPhi Power PHI3.4 batteries.

The power installation was handled by Rampart Solar in conjunction with ModSpace and the local DPW PW (Department of Water and Power). All three worked in conjunction to make sure everything was connected correctly and in the most efficient manner, including connecting the inverter to the building’s electrical panels. In the process every one learned some key things that will help make things even better for next year!

The installation used a total of three SimpliPhi Power PHI3.4 batteries stored in a portable strongbox... no ventilation needed courtesy of SimpliPhi's unique design!

The installation used a total of three SimpliPhi Power PHI3.4 batteries stored in a portable strongbox… no ventilation needed courtesy of SimpliPhi’s unique design!

Initially all of the clinic’s lights were fluorescents and had to be replaced with LED’s, which cut the electrical load in half. This allowed the solar/battery system to meet the demand. Clinical supervisors also reported they would have preferred even less light in parts of the clinic, and asked for dimmers to be installed next year.

Wiring up the solar array to the inverter and SimpliPhi batteries which are located in the sealed black strongbox.

Wiring up the solar array to the inverter and SimpliPhi batteries which are located in the sealed black strongbox.

Because of the potentially life and death nature of the work performed at emergency services, the DPW PW wisely left the lights and outlets in one of the three ModSpace trailers connected directly to a generator, which provided an extra layer of redundancy. This allowed the clinic to test heavier loads on the system without worrying about jeopardizing the entire clinic’s access to uninterrupted, reliable power.

View of the solar panels atop the shipping containers that make up some of emergency services complex.

View of the solar panels atop the shipping containers that make up some of emergency services complex.

Ultimately, the system powered 2/3’s of the clinic’s lights (32 LED ballasts, 14 watts each), in addition to a bunch of accessory appliances plugged into 2/3’s of the wall outlets (fans, nebulizers, cell phone chargers, and… the all important coffee machine!).

SimpliPhi helped power all of Burning Man's Emergency Services Clinic's critical infrastructure, from lighting to appliances to health monitors.

SimpliPhi helped power all of Burning Man’s Emergency Services Clinic’s critical infrastructure, from lighting to appliances to health monitors.

Based on daily observations, it appears that the system ran solely on solar and batteries for 5 of the 6 day/night cycles it was in operation. The inverter sent a total of 1.2 kAh of power to the clinic. The inverter faulted twice, likely due to overheating, but was easily reset and lighting came back on after approximately 10 seconds each time.

Providing emergency health services to a small city that blooms in the desert once a year is no small feat. The clinic stays busy 24/7 to meet any needs that may arise.

Providing emergency health services to a small city that blooms in the desert once a year is no small feat. The clinic stays busy 24/7 to meet any needs that may arise.

The crew is already looking forward to next year’s event. There’s a lot of additional space for adding panels (on ESD’s shade structure, other shipping containers or ModSpace roofs. Another exciting idea discussed was working with an artist to install a large tracking solar array in the shape of a red cross that would light up at night (art is energy is health).

There are also opportunities to supply off-grid, sustainable power to the Emergency Services Department’s network of outposts. These small stations use far less power and their shade structures would be ideal for deployed solar.

This year’s pilot project provided ample evidence that deployed solar coupled with SimpliPhi’s robust battery storage is a viable, reliable option for mission-critical infrastructure at Burning Man’s Black Rock City. We’re looking forward to seeing what they do next!

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