Q: How did this project on the Navajo nation come about?
Lee Feliciano: We have initiated at least four or five different conversations with various organizations and individuals in the Navajo Nation and one of them is with VMLC (Veterans Medical Leadership Council) and NASVU (Native American Sustainability for Veterans and those in Uniform).
There’s a number of projects happening in Navajo Nation related to PPE, running water and energy for the people who need the infrastructure and support for these amenities. There are approximately 15,000 households living off the grid on the Navajo nation. When they’re off the grid, not only do they need power, they don’t have running water and you know, other amenities.
But on a longer-term basis, they started off with water. They’re doing water tanks and then, but they had already identified the need after water would be energy. They brought in some veteran volunteers and I was introduced to Bill Ward who was a former utility engineer.
Bill and I built a rapport and I took him through why our products were the way they were and the pros and cons. So when the time came to start a project, he called on us to execute the work. But there was an interesting twist. Even though the original idea behind the partnership was energy, the group received a grant from USAA that slightly changed the scope of what we were going to do.
I don’t know what the specific conditions of the grant was but they told me they wanted to focus on diabetic veterans who lived in Navajo Nation off the grid. So, our immediate idea was we’ll provide a power system and a refrigerator (our SunFreez product) for them to store their medicine and fresh food.
Q: Talk about the need for reliable energy on the Navajo Nation. LF: One of the interesting things we learned is some of them are unique scenarios where there’s a power pole close to the house but the home can’t get connected to the main utility. I think more often though there’s the classic cases of just being too isolated from where the main power lines run. And you know, when I was doing utility scale solar, our rule of thumb to run a distribution line was about a million dollars a mile. So you can imagine, it’s not very cost-effective to run power lines.
Q: What did NUE specifically do on the ground with these freezers?
The entire install process takes about an hour. It involves unpacking the freezer and bringing it into the house. You have to have a place to put the freezer and it’s got to be close to an exterior wall. Because what we do is we drill a little hole in the wall and then we put the solar panel on the outside, ideally unobstructed facing south. And then we connect the solar panel outside to the charge controller which we mount on the wall inside the house.
The freezer is actually connected to the battery via the charge controller. So the actual mechanical attachment of all the components is probably like 30 minutes. The rest of the time after set up is educating the recipient. We ask them if they want it set as a fridge or freezer. Then we go through common troubleshooting issues they might face and how they can check them.
Q: From a personal perspective, what did it feel like to be able to help these people and what was their reaction to having one of these freezers installed?
It was just impactful on so many levels. Number one, first of all, is seeing the conditions that a lot of these recipients lived in it was pretty harsh. These veterans have very modest dwellings and the environment they live in very harsh. It can be really hot or really cold. Most of these guys have wood stoves and definitely no air conditioning. And some don’t even have a real kitchen or a place to store frozen food. And so the living conditions were real eye-opener for a place that’s only five hours away from Phoenix.
Understanding that what we were doing was literally life-changing for these people was incredible. People telling us “hey, I can actually have milk now,” or joking that the three hour drive to the grocery store would be a lot more productive because they can actually bring back a bunch of stuff that they could keep.
This was the first time I actually got to see what was going on inside the community itself with members of the community.
The other thing that I realized is even though I know at least two companies that are in the business of doing off-grid systems, serving the Navajo nation, that these people had never heard of because of how spread out it is. And the need is just so evident.
Q: What are some lessons learned in this project that can apply to what NUE does in 2022? LF: I think it was a huge validation for our original concept and our mission to replace small generators. When you look at statistics about what’s the size of the small generator market is in the United States or even globally – I don’t think that tells the full story.
Because there are a lot of people out there without generators that are not part of that equation. Yes, it is true that we are a clean, sustainable alternative to a small portable generator. But we’re so much more than that. I think this opportunity has opened our eyes to the fact that the projects like this are significant as well.
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Read our chat with New Use Energy CEO Paul Shmotolokha about NUE’s deployment to Louisiana with Footprint Project in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Q: What prompted New Use Energy’s deployment to Louisiana?
Paul Shmotolokha: This is part of our core mission. We have a priority set for emergency managers and disaster response and so for us, it was a natural deployment to do. We have a broad product line of sizes of solar generators designed for replacing the use of portable generators, which have traditionally been the go-to source of power after major disasters.
People are increasingly realizing the issues with portable generators. They need to restock the gasoline, there’s excessive noise, mistakes using the equipment and the CO2 emissions from it.
We immediately reached out to some of our NGO partners like Footprint Project once the power of the hurricane came to bear and we were able to see the impact.
So, you know, if it came over as a category one storm, it might not have been as big of a deal. But it came over very strong, especially hitting those barrier islands. So we just knew there was going to be a problem there. In this case we knew due to the severity of it that the rural areas would be the worst part hit.
Q: Talk about the need for reliable energy in Louisiana after the hurricane.
PS: The damage south of New Orleans was really where things were most acute and what happened immediately is the gas stations ran out of gasoline.They emptied out the gasoline stations and then the ability to pump was hampered. And then the resupply trucks were blocked for making it down, due to dangerous debris conditions on the road.
So people were stranded without gasoline. There were altercations in lines at gasoline stations for the few that could still operate after the electricity was out. Even some of the people that had their own generators, uh, ran out of gas for their own generators.
The farther south you went, the more isolated everybody was and the roads were devastated. The devastation to the utility infrastructure was really bad. The storm just took about every pole down.
Q: What did NUE do to help the situation?
PS: We had a team from Footprint Project that arrived several days after the storm. It was just luck that they were north in Tennessee doing some clean energy charging stations at the Bonnaroo music festival which was then actually cancelled due to the storm.
They mobilized right away. We got a couple of trailers together, some SunKits and PowerPacs that they had for the festival. And they just started heading south. This is what they do. They came ready. They started initially staging in New Orleans and realized that within a couple of days of power was going to come back there.
So they started venturing south and they just saw how bad the situation was. The wind damage was the key on this hurricane. Katrina was terrible due to the water damage and the lack of functioning levees. Ida was much worse when it came to wind. When you get south of New Orleans, it is very rural. There’s a lot of people living on homes that are on stilts.
It was terrible. Whole homes were just gone. So there was just a huge amount of people left without homes.
It was then that we saw that this was a long-term challenge and not just a short term one. Initial indications were that electricity was going to come back to some locations in a couple of weeks. It turned out to be several months. You can’t run a gas generator for several months. It’s hard and it’s very costly.
We initially deployed systems in community centers and in places that really were force multiplication in terms of helping people. And then the longer we went, the more we focused on the longer-term situation.
After a month or so, Footprint Project redeployed our systems. And I think that’s a big thing for us – our systems are very easy to redeploy. They’re mobile and with solar, we just have to find the right location to put the panels.
Footprint redeployed to those areas farther south that we couldn’t even reach initially. We even had systems being ferried by boat which is pretty impressive that we can take a system, put it on a boat, add some solar panels and then get it out to islands on the Bayou.
We were still doing installations in December working with groups like the Louisiana Solar Fund and Nouveau Electric Records and Another Gulf is Possible. We were making installations for temporary housing, for those who lost their homes completely. And there’s a lot of people, there are hundreds, if not thousands who, uh, have lost their homes. For some of them, they’ve had temporary shelters built and they need power to them. So they are literally out living in these shelters on their property very often. So there’s no power, no electrical junction boxes, and we give them a safe daily, renewable solution. So far, I think we’ve made about eight to ten installations.
We were lucky that Footprint Project arrived with solutions, but once they arrived, they realized they needed a lot more than they had. Going forward, we’re hoping to work with them and others to have more equipment pre-positioned close by so that it’s easier to bring it in. But we also helped fundraise for a Footprint Project to be able to fund more of their activities.
Q: How did it feel to help the people in the aftermath of the hurricane?
PS: For me it was a tremendous learning experience, but it was also an opportunity to really understand the dilemma on the part of people who live in these areas after a major event like this. It was devastating. It was kind of soul crushing at times, even, but the fortitude of the people was tremendous.
Probably the highlight was when we were down there, we powered a morale concert from a mobile solar stage for Louis Michot, the lead singer of the Lost Bayou Ramblers, a Grammy award-winning band and the owner of Nouveau Electric Records who works with us and also pioneers the Louisiana Solar Fund. His stage ran all day, even through a big rainstorm. The band went through all these devastated neighborhoods and people just came out of their houses and started dancing and they organized some great food and beverages.
That was quite a moving experience. Bonding immediately with people you’ve never met and just making it happen. So, how do we feel after the aftermath? We feel our work isn’t done yet. And so that’s why we were still working in November and December. There’s going to be people without homes for another year.
Thankfully it’s a warmer climate there, but we continue to seek out funding and opportunities so that these people can have power in their temporary shelters. People can come back but it’s tough.
Q: What lessons did you learn from this deployment?
PS: We show that our solutions prove themselves. It validated our whole product strategy of having ultra portable PowerPacs, the SunKits and the larger systems like the trailers.
Product-wise that was the biggest learning experience. We made some changes to our products that made them super easy to move before the hurricane that helped and the experience showed our products are super tough as well. We also really saw the benefit of having portable solar panels.
If you are wiring your own solar panels, there are two methods you can use: wiring in series and wiring in parallel. Lee Feliciano from New Use Energy (NUE) helps us understand why one method is used over the other.
Wiring Solar Panels in Series
Every solar panel has both a positive and a negative lead. When you are wiring in a series, you are connecting the negative lead on one panel to the positive lead on the other panel, end to end. It’s as if you’re connecting them in a row, like a string of holiday lights. This creates what is called a “series string”. You are left with the positive lead coming out of one panel and the negative lead coming out of the other panel. In the case of wiring 2, 18-volt panels together, you end up multiplying the voltage of the one solar panel by two. Ultimately, you have created a 36-volt solar panel series with two solar panels attached to each other.
Wiring Solar Panels in Parallel
In order to wire your solar panels in parallel, you will need to use a combiner cable. When wiring in parallel, take both positive cables from your 2 solar panels and attach them to the Y Branch Parallel Adapter. Then, take both negative cables and attach those to the adapter. What you should have is one negative and one positive cable coming from your two solar panels. You can think of it as creating two “parallel” lines into the parallel adapter to help differentiate this method from wiring in a series.
Why Would You Wire in Series vs. Parallel?
Now that you’ve learned the two methods of wiring solar panels you’re well on your way to powering and charging with solar! What are some reasons you would use one method over the other?
You would wire your solar panels in parallel if the voltage was at the correct voltage but you wanted to have redundancy or to speed up the charging process. For example, if you are using a 12-volt SunKit, that means it is installed with a 12-volt battery. In order to charge that battery, one 18-volt panel would be sufficient because 12 is less than 18. But if you wanted to double the charging speed you might want to add a second 18-volt panel to have it charger faster. Adding the second panel would allow your battery to charge twice as fast. In this case, you would want to wire your panels in parallel.
In the case of wiring panels in series what you’re trying to do is to wire them so you’re hitting a certain voltage window or output. This would be useful for something like charging a battery that needs to receive a certain amount of energy in order to charge. For example, our 24-volt SunKit includes a 24-volt battery. One 18-volt solar panel would not be sufficient to charge the 24-volt battery. In this case, you would use the parallel method to boost the voltage that your battery is receiving. Two 18-volt solar panels wired together in parallel will generate 36 volts, which is sufficient to charge the 24-volt SunKit.
Part of NUE’s mission is to make solar affordable and accessible for all. We hope this overview on wiring in series and parallel have helped you learn a little bit more about solar. Please share and spread the word about clean energy!
New Use Energy Solutions Inc. (NUE-S), specializing in the global distribution of lithium batteries and portable power stations, and Footprint GBC. (DBA Rent.Solar), makers of solar trailers, solar shelters and solar generators, are excited to announce they have completed a definitive merger agreement.
Washington DC-based NUE-S was founded in 2019 to create global sales and distribution channels for innovative energy storage solutions. Through innovation in technology, finance, and supply chain, NUE aims to democratize solar and deliver clean energy at affordable price points while also reducing carbon emissions and E-Waste.
Minnesota based Rent.Solar was founded in 2019 to mobilize solar energy by developing towable solar energy systems and portable solar energy shelters. They created a fleet of trailers and shelters that brought clean energy to festivals, concerts, and events across the United States. Together with their non-profit partner, Footprint Project, they provided power to over 15,000 people across North America in response to natural disasters and power outages.
Paul Shmotolokha, CEO of New Use Energy states “NUE emerges from this transaction with a dynamic and savvy management team, great product designs and a game-changing approach to portable power. While everyone in the solar industry makes a difference, users of our products actually feel the difference in their daily lives. They feel secure and empowered. Portable generators and lead-acid batteries are multi-billion dollar industries. New Use Energy is focused on replacing these dirty, dangerous, loud, fuel-guzzling generators with clean, quiet, solar electric generators using lithium battery technology to do what old-style, heavy and bulky energy lead-acid batteries cannot.”
Operating under the new brand, New Use Energy or NUE, the company is developing field serviceable, resilient and energy rich portable solar generators with high power solar inputs, industrial strength inverters and expandable lithium battery banks to best offer affordable clean energy for anyone, anywhere. These solutions directly address fast growing needs for access to electricity when grids go down, which, due to climate change, is happening more often.
“Disaster relief is in our DNA. Working with our strategic partner, Footprint Project, we’ve developed products that are unique in the market, based on our experience under these challenging conditions,” says Lee Feliciano, COO of New Use Energy.