Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Resurgence of Makers and Small Firms: Innovation in the Energy Sector

Guest blog by Karen Lawrence, KLCreative Media

Last year around this time, SUNRNR of Virginia, Inc., a small manufacturer of solar/wind/water powered generators, was celebrating its 10th anniversary and posted a two-part interview with inventor Alan Mattichak and co-owners Jenny and Scott French chronicling the path from idea to marketplace. In rereading those posts and watching trends in energy and the American workforce this past year, I am struck by not only the resurgence of “makers” like Al Mattichak, but how individuals and small companies like SUNRNR are stepping into the national spotlight to bolster a wide range of innovations and changes in the way business is done, particularly in the energy sector.

SUNRNR Inventor Al Mattichak
Scott & Jenny French, photo by Daily News-Record, Nikki Fox
Take the ground-breaking methods of bringing new concepts to market highlighted in the article “Welcome to the Maker-Industrial Revolution” from Popular Science earlier this year for instance. Tracing the roots of the decline of corporate manufacturing and the rise of the “maker movement,” a trend in which products are created and marketed employing do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-with-others ( DIWO) techniques and processes, the article outlines the benefits of modern models of crowdsourced, fast-paced innovation and manufacturing. “Any enterprise shackled to a slow and expensive production model could benefit from low-cost, fast-paced innovation. Indeed, if outsourcing was a major source of competitive advantage over the past 30 years, rapid innovation, low-risk manufacture, and proximity to markets could take its place over the next 30 years.” Trend-watchers see the emergence of a more systematic, collaborative model that merges large markets and manufacturers with entrepreneurial individuals and small companies (like SUNRNR) that are developing, market-testing, and refining products on a much smaller scale as a step towards accelerating “…a new movement in U.S. industry, one in which jobs and innovation come back to stay.”

Even big name think tanks like The Miller Center at the University of Virginia are talking up the importance of reinvigorating the American Dream by focusing on “big trends-small firms,” expanded innovation capacity of small- and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises, and “upside-down” degrees encouraging work experience and education in their initiative “Building a Nation of Makers Six Ideas to Accelerate the Innovative Capacity of America’s Manufacturing SMEs.”

Turn the spotlight of all this talk about a “nation of makers” and the importance of innovators in increasing and expediting access to renewable energy to more people worldwide, and you’ll find experts touting the same message. The U.S. edition of The Guardian offers up Nine Ideas to Spark Innovation in the Energy Sector from a wide-variety of sources, and supporting grassroots innovators and scaling invention incentives to encourage faster global adoption of needed renewable energy technologies are high on the list of ways to accelerate renewable energy availability.
Jenny French at White House Round Table, photo credit
Businesses participating in Canary Islands Trade Mission
SUNRNR has been fighting the barriers to small firms entering the marketplace for more than a decade, but events of 2015 may indicate a renewed interest in inventors and small firms as key players in rebuilding U.S. industry and its viability here and abroad. SUNRNR was invited to participate in a Small Business Exporters Roundtable at the White House in 2015 and joined a U.S. Trade Mission that is part of the Doing Business in Africa Campaign in November, as an emphasis on the importance of small companies to the overall economic health of the U.S. has taken center stage. 

What does this trend mean for the next 10 years of SUNRNR? No one knows for sure, but we’ll be watching and rooting for the home team to take this innovative product to the next level of global distribution!    

Monday, November 16, 2015


Harrisonburg, VA. SUNRNR of Virginia, Inc. is one of nine U.S. companies in the Canary Islands this week on a trade mission exploring opportunities on the Islands as well as West Africa. Companies from four states and Washington, D.C. are participating in the mission.

“Africa presents an incredible opportunity for the entire U.S. business community,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce Antwaun Griffin. “The economic growth and market diversity on the continent mean there are opportunities for companies in just about any sector, and I’m glad to see such a strong delegation of businesses participating in this mission.”

The mission is organized by the Virginia and Washington, D.C. District Export Council, and certified by the U.S. Department of Commerce. It will connect companies to government decision-makers from eight West African markets, facilitate business-to-business appointments with pre-screened potential partners in the region, and include technical site visits across the Canary Islands.

SUNRNR is a Shenandoah Valley based solar generator manufacturer. The SUNRNR line of products facilitates collection and storage of over 2,000 watts of solar, wind, or water energy that can be used for supplemental, remote, or off grid power in a wide-range of business and residential applications. The products’ durability, long life span, and low maintenance requirements make them particularly suitable for grid outages, disaster relief, rural electrification, and stand-alone power.

“Bringing SUNRNR to more markets that can truly benefit from access to portable power generated from available resources is not just a smart business move, it’s an important contribution to humanitarian and disaster relief efforts worldwide,” said SUNRNR principal Jenny French. “The Canary Islands is an excellent avenue for introducing more people to a renewable power option that not only has a multitude of commercial and personal energy applications, but that can run water pumps, refrigeration, and support medical operations during times of emergency.”
SUNRNR is also participating in the Africagua Conference, an event for renewable energy and water firms connecting to development opportunities in the region.

West Africa had the strongest economic growth on the continent in 2014, and the Canary Islands’ network of ports makes it an excellent launching point for entering multiple West African markets. The Canaries also boast a stable legal framework under the EU, and a low four percent corporate tax rate.

This trade mission is an important part of the United States’ Doing Business in Africa campaign, and comes two months after the U.S. Commercial Service led Trade Winds—Africa, the largest-ever U.S. trade mission to the continent. The U.S. government has committed billions of dollars to development initiatives in Africa, and has facilitated billions more in U.S.-Africa business deals since the start of the Doing Business in Africa campaign.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

SUNRNR Offers Solar+Storage Disaster Relief Option

HARRISONBURG, VA. (October 27, 2015)—SUNRNR of Virginia, Inc., a Shenandoah Valley-based portable solar+storage generator company, is making news in areas hit hard by weather events, particularly during the 2015 hurricane season. Crooked Island in the southern Bahamas islands received a SUNRNR (SunRunner), temporarily donated by distributor CleanWaterSolutions, to provide power at the Colonel Hill airport terminal where a makeshift health clinic was set up following Hurricane Joaquin. The SUNRNR will provide lighting and critical refrigeration for medical supplies like insulin.
Photo credit:
SUNRNR has made significant progress towards expanding the export of the locally manufactured portable units in recent months. After participating in a White House briefing with President Obama and senior Administration officials during a Small Business Exporters Roundtable in March, and being the featured company from Virginia in a joint project of the Office of US Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce titled United States of Trade: 50 Stories in 50 States that Show the Impact of Trade Across the Nation, SUNRNR is positioned to add more countries like the Bahamas to the existing list of Canada, Japan and several African countries they have been servicing. 
Working with the Virginia/DC District Export Council along with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the company’s president is scheduled to attend a trade mission trip to Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of West Africa Nov 16-20. SUNRNR applied for and was selected to join the trade mission aimed at helping U.S. firms in the energy, environmental technologies, industrial equipment and supplies, infrastructure and logistics sectors find partners from the Canary Islands and other regions of Spain to sell products and services in West Africa. Companies participating in the trip will also learn about the advantages of setting up an operation in the Canary Islands to pursue opportunities in West Africa.  This trip fits hand-in-hand with Governor McAuliffe’s new VITAL program, the Virginia STEP grant, and the Obama Administration’s Doing Business in Africa and Power Africa initiatives.
In addition to the devastation from Hurricane Joaquin, severe weather events worldwide such as #HurricanePatricia and #TyphoonKoppu emphasize a growing need for alternative power options around the world. The Canaries have faced a number of severe weather events as well, the most recent causing wide-spread school closures due to flash flooding from torrential rain. SUNRNR could provide important emergency power supplies during times of natural disaster in remote locations.
Information about SUNRNR products can be found at or by contacting Jenny French at or Scott French at, 540.271.3403.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How Farms and Agribusiness Are Using Solar

Guest Post by 

Farms and other agriculturally-reliant businesses are ideal candidates for solar. They are often located in remote areas where on-grid energy isn’t as accessible as in a neighborhood or city, and their energy needs are often vast. The number of grid-tied solar energy systems on farms and ranches has shot up over the last decade—not only because it is convenient and sustainable, as explained by Modernize, but also because incentives and tax breaks have made the choice an easy one for many people in the agricultural industry. 

Farmers and Sustainable Energy 

Farmers make their living off of the land; cultivating it and caring for it is their duty. The use of solar energy in the agriculture industry positively impacts the latter’s longevity by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and stabilizing energy and fuel costs. In fact, solar makes so much sense in an agribusiness setting that farms and similar businesses were some of the first to host photovoltaic solar energy systems. 

Farmers can use both photovoltaic (PV) systems and passive solar systems to meet their energy needs. The choice between on-grid and off-grid depends on the inter-connection and metering available in the area. Farms use solar energy to cancel out the need for kerosene, diesel, and propane, which are not only harmful to the environment but expensive as well. A few of the processes for which farmers can replace gas usage with solar energy usage include heating water, heating air for crop drying, controlling greenhouse temperature, and powering generators. 

Financial Incentives and Tax Relief 

The large upfront investment of implementing solar on a farm is recuperated through monthly energy savings. However, due to the vast energy needs of farms, solar can be an intimidating investment. Thankfully, there are several policy-driven local, state, and federal tax credits incentives to encourage more farmers to go solar, including the across-the-board 30 percent federal tax credit for both residential and corporate solar users. There are also many financing options that farmers can take advantage of. While the perks differ based on location, there are incentives available to all farmers and ranchers in the US. 

According to USDA’s Solar Energy Use in U.S. Agriculture report, the average financial support received for solar PV on farms was 44 percent of the entire project cost. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) both provide grants and loans to farms, ranches, and rural businesses for the purpose of implementing renewable energy systems. 

With the many options for financing and assistance, as well as the freedom from expensive and  environmentally harmful fuels, implementing solar on farms is well worth the investment. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Five Ways to Incorporate Portable Solar into Your Farm or Garden

Guest post by Jenna Clark

There’s no question that solar energy is hot right now (pun intended), both on the commercial scale and the home scale. Just this week, Amazon announced its intention to build the largest solar farm in Virginia, a 900-acre farm that will “generate enough electricity to power 15,000 homes for a year,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  And according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the number of homes with solar systems installed has been soaring; from 30,000 in 2006 to 400,000 in 2013.

Advances in solar technology and falling costs have made solar more accessible than ever, especially in the field of portable solar energy (see Portable solar energy is especially useful on farms and in urban gardens, where renewable energy including windmills have long been a source of power. Here are five ways to incorporate portable solar energy into your farm business or home garden, at any scale.

1. Powering livestock fencing. We’ll start with the most recognizable and widely used method for fencing livestock on the farm: solar-powered electric fencing. This is a great place to start incorporating portable solar energy into your system, as fencing can be a great distance from electrical outlets and fences may need to be rotated quickly and frequently for grazing animals. 
2. Running tools. If you’ve ever worked or lived on a farm, you know how frequently equipment, fencing, buildings, and tools need to be repaired (hint: something is fixed every single day). Or maybe you’re building a new shed, barn, greenhouse, walk-in cooler, or portable chicken tractor. Using a SunRnR to power the tools you need at a construction site or out in the field can save time, money, and stress.

3. Watering livestock, irrigating, or aerating a pond. A solar powered well pump is another popular use of renewable energy on the farm, especially if you have a lot of acreage. With a single cow drinking up to 24 gallons of water per day in the heat, having a reliable pump is critical. Another reason why choosing portable solar with a quality battery is key – during the summer months when water usage is at its peak, the SunRnR can store enough solar energy to power a well pump even if the sun is not shining.

4. Heat or ventilate a greenhouse or grow indoors with grow lights and water pump. Using solar energy to heat and ventilate the plants in your greenhouse is an effective and efficient use of power. It is also useful if you are looking into heating water and pumping it through tubes similar to a radiant floor like these systems:;ft_cooling_vent_heating;ft_radiant_heat_systems.html  or

5. Light your pathways and outbuildings or provide refrigeration. Work on the farm rarely ends right at sundown, but even if it does, use your SunRnR to power a few strands of LED garden lights'-LED-Fairy-Lights-Cool-White-Silver-Wire-58806.htm?gclid=CKaymqCPk8YCFYaRHwodOxwASQ and throw a well-deserved farm party to sample your delicious home-grown fare and celebrate the season’s hard work. 
Image via, Farm dinner at Manakintown, Virginia
Portable solar power is an investment, but one that is paying off for more people, increasingly rapidly. Clean renewable energy makes sense, especially on a farm where taking good care of the land means leaving a meaningful and healthy legacy for the next generation. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

JMU Intern Learns About Solar Power, Marketing and Pursuit of Passions

Guest post by Stephanie Gross
Two of our recent JMU interns Victoria Olmer (l) & Stephanie Gross
This past spring semester I was fortunate enough to be one of Sunrnr’s three interns. Each intern had a completely different experience, as Sunrnr allowed us to place ourselves in an area that we were each interested in. One worked on creating an extensive book of instructions for putting together a solar powered energy generator, one worked to help improve marketing standard operating procedures…And I came into the position with the most basic knowledge of solar energy and had no idea where my skills would be most useful for Sunrnr.
At my first meeting with the Sunrnr team, which included Jenny, Scott and Karen, I was assured that that would not be a problem. They gave me a wide variety of projects to focus on based on what I had a passion for and what would benefit the company. In the end, we came up with a long list of projects.
By the end of the semester, with Sunrnr cheering me on, I was able to:
  • Conduct a website usability test
  • Attend events to learn about marketing
  • Create content for Pinterest
  • Write posts for facebook
  • Create and track ad words campaigns
  • Write blog posts (including this one)
Every step of the way the Sunrnr staff was there to guide me through my projects. They were friendly, open-minded, time-efficient, and eager to help and learn with me. I quickly found that this demeanor of Sunrnr’s employees has created the brand identity.
Their energy and devotion is reflected in the company’s overall purpose and culture. Because of this, I looked forward to our biweekly meetings downtown, where we met to discuss my progress and goals, as well as Sunrnr’s progress and goals.

From this internship, I improved in many different areas and learned a lot about marketing, as well as solar powered energy. However, the most important takeaway is how possible it is to pursue your dreams and passions in life, the way Jenny and Scott have done in creating Sunrnr.
Thanks for a great semester Sunrnr! I look forward to watching your future success and hopefully more appearances at the White House!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What Would a Random Power Outage Cost You? You Might Be Surprised

Guest post by Stephanie Gross

What would a random power outage cost you?  Think about all of the important things in your house that require energy to run. Whether it is your hairdryer, television, microwave, or air conditioner, we know you’re dependent on energy for day-to-day tasks and you can’t afford to do without it.

As our reliance on household energy gradually increases, so does the risk of losing power at any given moment. And, on top of that, the U.S. suffers more blackouts than any other developed nation. According to Eaton’s Blackout Tracker Report that was just released, 14.2 million people were affected by power outages throughout 2014. The report includes 3,634 outages that occurred across the country, a 12% increase from that of last year. These are just the reported outages.

The report highlights top significant outages that were unusual and had the most lasting effect.

  • In Georgia a parking attendant gave the keys to an Audi A7 to the wrong customer accidentally and instead of pointing out the mistake the person took the car and crashed into a power pole.
Result: 4,800 residents without power.
  • In Hawaii, a chicken got into some co-op equipment at a switchyard and tripped the circuit breakers.
Result: Half the island without power.
  • In Florida, a fire truck ladder got hooked on power lines and pulled them down causing an outage.
Result: 400 residents without power

2015 is no different. So far, the longest reported blackout was on April 18th in Richmond, Virginia, when squirrels caused a three-day power outage after snacking on some power lines.
The day before that, April 17th in Houston, Texas, 78,000 residents were out of power after a thunderstorm knocked down trees that resulted in major outages. On April 6th, 79,000 lost energy for four hours when an insulator failed in a substation.

These are not rare. Eaton’s blackout tracker shows reported blackouts as they happen. In the past weekend alone, here’s what happened: 
  • 45 people were affected for an hour for unknown reasons in Indianapolis, IN.
  • 3,600 were affected by a garbage truck crashing into a power line in Lauderhill, FL.
  • 2,800 were affected for 2.5 hours by a fire in Marinette, WI.
  • 991 were affected by a fire in Scranton, PA.
  • 1,500 were affected for 9 hours by a fallen wire in Lincoln City, OR.
  • 2,000 were affected for unknown reasons in Kansas City, MO.
  • 12,404 were affected by storms that hit Oklahoma City, OK
  • 1,000 were affected when heavy rainfall cut power in Harrison Country, TX.
  • An unreported number of people were affected 4 hours for planned emergency work in Dallastown, PA.
  • 14,000 were affected when a man crashed into a power pole in Tampa, FL.
Do these places sound familiar to you? Are they near your house? Or maybe you’re one of the 38,340 people who were affected this past weekend by a variety of different causes.
Whether it’s the weather or a freak accident, when a black out hits, it will leave you and your loved ones in the dark. Who knows what you’ll lose. It’s important to be prepared and have a plan for when it does.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Are You Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

Guest post by Jenna Clarke

Living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the thought of being prepared for a natural disaster rarely crossed my mind three years ago. Although we have snowstorms and occasional flooding, we are not in a tornado alley and have only experienced the most minor earthquakes. Natural disasters can sometimes seem more of an inconvenience than a serious threat.

But last week, while I was visiting a local farmer’s market, I noticed dark clouds gathering across distant hills and I was reminded of a weather event that hit the east coast unexpectedly on a beautiful June day in 2012. On that particular afternoon, I was driving through the rolling hills of Southwest Virginia to visit family and friends at a picnic. It was a bright and calm day – I had the windows down and was taking my time along the windy country roads.

I had barely registered the dark clouds lining the horizon when I noticed the wind picking up and felt a faint chill in the air. I rolled up my windows as the first raindrops fell. Suddenly, the sky turned ink black and the wind blew the trees so hard that they bent sideways. Branches snapped; I heard a loud pop and saw a bright flash as a tree fell 10 yards ahead of me across the road, taking down a power line with it.  I pulled into the closest driveway and spent the next five minutes in terror waiting out what I thought was a freak tornado, but was actually the derecho of 2012.

Photo Attribution: "6-29-2012 Derecho" by NWS/Storm Prediction Center - NWS/Storm Prediction Center. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

 After the storm, millions of Virginians were left without power or running water for almost a week. We lost everything in our refrigerator and hundreds of dollars worth of frozen meat and vegetables. Worst of all, the storm came amidst a heat wave and our vegetable gardens withered and died without water. And similar outages happen every year following ice storms, heavy snows, hurricanes, floods and other forces of nature that are difficult to prepare for because we have not experienced them.

So how to avoid losing so much during an emergency?

Gas generators are an option and certainly one that can fulfill your emergency needs. But how about considering a long-lasting, sustainable solution like a solar powered generator? The SUNRNR is an off-grid solar backup that provides electricity from stored energy in a rechargeable battery so you can use it day or night, in sunshine or in rain. It can run your well pump (SUN240) or appliances (SUN110) during power outages. Even better it can be used safely and cleanly beyond emergencies, to power your cabin, outbuilding, or greenhouse without noise, emissions, or gas storage.

Find out more about the SUNRNR and how to be prepared for natural disasters with back-up solar power here:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

SUNRNR Goes to Washington, DC and Beyond: Poised for Export

SUNRNR portable solar generators exportI recently had the great honor of being one of nine small business principals invited by the White House Business Council to attend a briefing with senior Administration officials including Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, and Jeff Zients, Director of the National Economic Council.  This Small Business Exporters Roundtable was assembled to discuss the President's export and international trade agenda with an emphasis on two potentially-new partnerships, the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership).  Other participants were the Honorable Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, the Honorable Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, and the SBA Administrator, Ms Maria Contreras-Sweet.  Oh, and two days before the meeting, we were all told the President would be joining us.
SUNRNR at Small Business Exporters Roundtable

That, he did.  President Obama spent well over an hour asking questions and listening to the nine of us, with products and services in everything from colorants to tea to high-tech equipment to concrete to more concrete to overhead doors to software to renewable energy, tell our individual stories of export to date - problems, successes, paths, results, value.  He also asked the Mayors to comment on how trade affects their cities and the US in general and he had Administrator Contreras-Sweet remind us of the terrific resources available to Small Business, such as loan programs and assistance centers.  Mayor Buckhorn mentioned his city's beautiful ports and how closely foreign trade ties them to jobs and revenue.  Mayor Nutter mentioned the fearfulness many businesses might have toward entering global markets and how important it was to make it easier, less-intimidating, and more secure for them, such as through trade agreements.

They then warned us about "cameras" coming in.  I was naively unprepared as the room more than doubled in attendance with booms, lights, audio, video filling the other side of the room and the President graciously and humorously noted they don't usually hit you on the head.  New experience to say the least.  More available through gettyimages and

SUNRNR and another company were likely tied for "youngest" in terms of exporting, but the President interacted with us all equally.  He saw immediately how our product might be better-suited for certain countries where there is little, none, or an unreliable grid rather than for America, where electricity is plentiful, therefore leaving relatively-niche markets for our product, such as small off-grid, construction, well pumps, preparedness, rural applications.  As to how SUNRNR was fortunate enough to be represented there, it started many years ago with the dream of container-loads of SUNRNR portable solar generators bound for places needing electricity and where just a little would be appreciated and go a long way.

In many cases, such as ours, a small business' "export department" may consist of one or more of the principals.  With no training in this area, I began learning by visiting websites, writing emails, attending seminars/classes/webinars, and scheduling meetings.  The federal and state governments offer so many, almost too many, resources to help.  The US Trade Representative, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Dept of Commerce, US Commercial News, and Small Business Development Centers were amazingly- and graciously-helpful along the way.  Even a BB&T Bank offered an extremely educational workshop.  It was there that I met a JMU International Business Professor, Dr Marion White, which led to SUNRNR being the focus of a semester-long project for 36 students, resulting in market assessment reports for 12 regions worldwide.  I can not thank the people associated with these resources enough.  Somewhere during those years, several dozen SUNRNRs went to Canada, Africa, and Japan.  The USTR took notice, appreciated our efforts, and extended the invitation to this roundtable.  They also, in a joint project with Commerce, featured SUNRNR as the company chosen to represent Virginia in their United States of Trade booklet published last week.

Less than 1% of the 28 million small businesses in the US have entered into export.  Why should a small business even try?  SUNRNR's vision is to leave a legacy, do something good, see small yellow boxes making and remaking energy everywhere.  These trade partnerships are intended to increase exports by streamlining customs and regulations, reducing barriers such as tariffs, opening new markets, and leveling the playing field.  We experienced the importance of these trade agreements during our sales to Canada, as NAFTA made the transaction easier and less-costly, both for us and for our customers.  We have also learned over time something else mentioned during the roundtable:  Much of the world strongly prefers products marked as "Made in America".  That label connotes quality, craftsmanship, durability, investment.  We welcome business relationship inquiries.

I understand there are controversial issues regarding TPP and TTIP that are well above my pay grade, However, for SUNRNR and other small businesses, increased, simplified export equals increased sales/growth, thus creating jobs, thus strengthening our communities, states, and America as a whole, thereby protecting her global leadership position.  What do trade partnerships mean?  They mean the world to us.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Earth Day Reflection: Harnessing the Power of the Sun

What comes to mind when you think of the 1970s? Maybe bell-bottoms, Rock and Roll, Watergate, Vietnam, or Civil Rights? How about the birth of the environmental movement? The first Earth Day was held 45 years ago, on April 22, 1970. It occurred eight years after Rachel Carson’s best-selling Silent Spring raised alarm around the widespread use of pesticides, one year after a massive oil spill covered the shores of California, and nine years before the energy crisis of ’79, which ushered in a recession due to decreased oil output following the Iranian Revolution.

At that time, the environmental movement combined the energy of the anti-war sentiment with the emerging concern around environmental issues, and it was very effective. The first Earth Day garnered support from both sides of the political aisle and led to the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. In terms of solar energy, the energy crisis of ’79 led to more resources being dedicated to alternative energy and the development of new technologies, bringing the cost of solar cells from $100/watt to $20/watt.

Nearly 50 years later and we have come a long way ($.72/watt!). As the cost of solar panels drops, battery systems improve, and off-grid systems like a SUNRNR solar generator to allow  for flexibility, the concept of alternative energy and solar power has become normal and familiar.

To celebrate this Earth Day, let’s take a step back and think about what it means to actually harvest the awe-inspiringly powerful energy of the sun and how unusual and incredible that is!

The sun lies at the heart of our solar system and makes up 99.8 percent of the solar system’s mass. It is huge – you could fit a million Earths inside the sun! And it is blistering – more than 27 million degrees F at its core. When you step outside and feel the warmth of the sun on your face, it has actually taken that light and heat eight minutes to get to your face because the sun is so far away – 93 million miles away. It is mind-blowing: you are feeling warmth on your face from a giant sphere of hot gas (mostly hydrogen and helium) that is 93 million miles away!

So this Earth Day, whether you’re using your solar generator to power your weekend cabin, riding your bike on a solar sidewalk, or riding in a solar airplane, take a second to remember how incredible solar technology is and how far we have come from the days of Ptolemy when the sun rotated around the earth. And if you have a few minutes, I highly recommend checking out this video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Have you ever seen anything more beautiful than the sun?

And don’t forget SunRnR’s Earth Day Deal! Usher in Spring and Daylight Savings Time by literally saving daylight with a SUNRNR portable solar generator!  From now through Earth Day, use Code DST15 to receive a FREE AC/DC charger ($140 value) with purchase.

Blog content by Jenna Clarke

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reducing Your Electric Bill: There's an App for That!

Guest blog by Victoria Olmer

Bills can be expensive, but just about everyone has to pay their bills every single month in exchange for basic needs such as running water and electricity. Electric bills, especially in the winter, can become particularly pricey for those of you with electric heat as you fight to keep out the cold.

Let’s say that you’re trying to switch things up and have decided to reduce your electric bill by 5%. The first thing you’ll want to do is look at last month’s electric bill to see what your monthly electric use was.

Your last electric bill listed that you used 30 kW (30,000 W) EVERY DAY that month. Take 5% of your electric usage in watts. 5% of 30,000 would be 1,500; therefore, your goal is to reduce your utility electric usage by 1,500 W every day. It’s a do-able goal! And you can think of it as getting 1-1/2 days of electricity FREE every month.

Conveniently, investments such as a SUNRNR ("SunRunner") renewable energy generator can offer 1,500 W each day sustainably (when sun is available for recharge).  This is the offset method - powering that 5% using a source of energy other than the grid.  Of course, another route is pure reduction of consumption and other initiatives, such as turning off the lights or computers when they’re not in use, changing the thermostat by a degree, sealing cracks, washing clothes in warm water instead of hot, etc.

So where do smartphones come in? Well you’ll want to know how to keep track of your electricity usage so you can either cut back or use an alternate energy source. Most of us have smartphones these days and luckily there are a variety of applications that can make this task extremely easy.  Three applications stood out for evaluation. They include Green Outlet, EvoEnergy, and Power Simulator. All of these programs can be downloaded on smart phones either for free or just $1!

For the purpose of reducing your electric bill by 5%, Power Simulator and Green Outlet might be the best applications, since based on your input, they plainly state how much energy a particular appliance uses daily and the associated cost.  They are likely the most-helpful apps for finding that 1,500W and determining which appliances would make the best (and easiest) choice for being run "off grid" or used more efficiently.   

Power Simulator
        Very simple and easy to use! (Although changing cost/kW not very intuitive in Settings)
        A wide variety of typical appliances and their wattages are pre-programmed.
        Appliances not in alphabetical order, but are listed by type (kitchen, bedroom, etc.)
        Total cost and energy usage are given for amount of time the appliance is used per month.
        Time units can be easily adjusted.
        Not all appliances may be listed.
        It’s not clear that the cost and wattage predicted is daily.
        No option to enter your own appliances and wattages.
        No overall report or option to add up total appliance usage. Only one report for an appliance at a time.

        You can create a running list of all appliances for total monthly power usage and cost.
        Summary provides hourly, daily, monthly, and yearly cost and wattage totals so no math is necessary!
        Application is relatively easy to maneuver.
        Allows you to view total and individual monthly costs and wattages.
        Appliances can be edited and deleted.
        Power units can be altered (watts, kilowatts, milliamps, amps).
        The “Power Consumption Calculator” on the home page is redundant. Calculations can be done in the “Your List of Appliances” tab.
        You must enter all data including appliance names and their wattages - ugh!

Green Outlet
        “Welcome” page includes all of the instructions for the entire application.
        “Settings” provides unique options, such as entering data about your home including size, thermostat temperature, and the number of people.
        Appliance wattages are pre-programmed, and you CAN adjust the wattage.
        Includes a carbon footprint reading based on your electricity usage. Very neat!
        Not all appliances may be listed.
        No option to enter your own appliances and wattages.
        Instructions are buried in Welcome page, therefore difficult to navigate.
        “Appliances” page is cumbersome.  Not clear about how to add up total appliance usage.
         Appliances are not in alphabetical (or even any) order.
        Must read instructions to understand setting icons for each appliance. 
        “Estimated Monthly Electric Bill” only updates when you exit an appliance.
        After all the input, there is no final report, no synopsis of what has been entered.

Editor's Note:
The purpose of evaluating these apps was to find one that would help consumers simulate the benefits of investing in a SUNRNR.  These apps, although educational regarding consumption, did not accomplish the intended mission.  Stay tuned for further options for simulating a SUNRNR as part of your everyday electrical power reduction.