SunZilla provides portable open source electricity

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Do-it-yourself electricity generation is still difficult and expensive. The inventors of the SunZilla project aim to make it easier, cleaner, portable, quiet, and completely open source.

The SunZilla system is designed to replace diesel and gasoline-powered generators for portable and emergency power: camping, events, mobile phone charging station, provide power to refugee camps, or keep the lights on during a power outage. Two people can set it up in a few minutes. It is modular and plug-and-play.

Leonie Gildein is one of the five SunZilla engineers, and kindly answered some questions about the project.

Where did you build the first Sunzilla prototype?

The first construction of our prototype took place in Berlin. This happened because we, for ourselves, were confronted by the situation to use a fuel-run generator for our power supply.

Can you use this in a residential yard? For a business? What are the smallest and largest applications?

Yes, you can use SunZilla in a residential yard, but as well for a small business. In the beginning we had one size, however we noticed that every user has a different energy need. This is how we came up with the idea to make SunZilla modular. The power output ranges from 350 – 3500 watts. The smallest configuration could be running lights, charging a laptop and mobile phone, and having a little fridge connected. Larger configurations would allow to add electric kettles and heating plates.

Can you explain about the modularity of Sunzilla? For example I have a summer home. Can I operate appliances with Sunzilla?

The modularity, on the one hand, allows the user to adapt the system to its power need, but as well to start in a small configuration and add more solar power or battery storage. On the other hand, it also gives the possibility to optimize the SunZilla system according to the user's energy use. SunZilla comes with a monitoring system; combined with the modularity the user can study its own energy usage, and add in accordance to the energy information storage or power units.

In the future the system shall include water filtration or other appliances, which like the energy modules the user can stack together.

What parts of the project are not open source?

So far the solar cells, the inverter and the charge controller are not open source yet. However our vision is to get SunZilla as open source as possible.

Who uses SunZilla? Any names we know?

Last year SunZilla was used on several festivals such as the MELT festival in Germany. During the open source innovation camp POC21 in France, SunZilla powered the camping area. Right now SunZilla is used in Berlin on the Teufelsberg.

What's your philosophy on solar energy? Do you think projects like SunZilla could sway public perception?

Solar energy is a free source of power which can be sustainable and used in a social way. SunZilla does not only aim at an environmentally-friendly energy use, but also to give people back the power. SunZilla as an open source product wants to enhance the knowledge transfer which is needed to spread solar energy around the world, especially in areas without power, or unreliable grid connections.

What is your development community like? How can someone get involved with SunZilla?

Our development community comes mostly from all the people we have met around POC21 last year. However we are happy about everyone keen on getting involved, just get in contact with us. (contact@sunzilla.de)

More information and plans for building the Sunzilla 3.0 Popup Solar Generator are available at Instructables. To purchase, check back at the end of the year.

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About the author

Don Watkins - Educator, education technology specialist,  entrepreneur, open source advocate. M.A. in Educational Psychology, MSED in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator, CCNA, virtualization using Virtual Box. Follow me at @Don_Watkins .