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Product Uplink... Go Green: iNetVu® SolarPack System

To pollute or not to pollute, that is the question… Yes, a misquote of the famous Shakespearean line, but you have to admit, it IS catchy. Thank you, William.

Usually the answer to that question is not a conscious decision. In the satellite business, some people would say we are very green. After all, other than when they are launched, thousands of satellites floating around in space are all running on solar power. No coal by-products, little fossil fuels being burned (just enough to keep them in orbit), no nuclear waste — the sun is being used to generate power. This is so green; it’s hard to get any greener.

ccom g1 sm 0510

We in the satellite business can relax and go home, thinking we are saving our own little piece of the planet, correct?

Wrong! Let’s leave the launch side of the business for another day. What we want to discuss is the habit most of us have that causes harm to the environment we live in. Often deploying and operating VSAT antennas require the vehicle’s internal combustion engine running to produce the power. Apparently, we are in a business that requires us to operate our products in situations where we have no electrical outlets to plug into. Use of generators or vehicles is the most common solution in such cases, although not the most environmentally friendly.

Products that are easy to use, safe, and environmentally friendly are being designed into every new C-COM product. National and International standards such as FCC, CE, and RoHS are part of quality objectives to our design teams. This ongoing commitment led C-COM to develop a solution which could prevent people from creating this non-green problem. Our clients were forced into situations where the production of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) is a by-product of doing business. C-COM decided to become pro-active and provide a remedy for such a dependency and has designed, and now manufactures, a SolarPack solution that can eliminate the dependency on fossil fuels for powering the iNetVu® line of mobile VSAT solutions. In keeping with the C-COM mission statement, we designed a cutting edge solution using the latest and ‘best in class’ products to produce a solution that combines ease of operation and low maintenance at a very attractive price.

The iNetVu® SolarPack is offered in a neat compact package, containing all of the components required to configure a complete power solution capable of powering all of our antenna products from Flyway to vehicle mount platforms. The base unit contains a 100 amp hour battery, available in either a lead-acid or lithium choice, a charge control unit capable of handling 340 watts of solar generated power, two flexible, high output solar blankets (62 watts each), a 600 watt power inverter (which can handle most platform requirements) and all of the cables needed to connect the system.

A number of manufacturers offer solar solutions, but often, the solutions have not been designed properly and consequently, do not work as intended. We have spent more than two man years developing and testing this solution; designing, prototyping, testing, modifying, re-building and re-testing, until we had a design that produced the results we expected.

The iNetVu® SolarPack can deliver 120 watts (with 2 solar blankets) of continuous power during daylight hours and then offer this same 120 watts of power for another 12 hours of darkness and keep this cycle going continuously. What if, you say, you need more power?

ccom t1 sm 0510 Well, we simply add two more solar blankets to the system and 240 watts is attained. Still need more? You can connect a maximum of six solar blankets for a total of 340 watts of power. If this is still not enough, you can add another battery, which allows for the addition of two to six more solar blankets and now you can as much as 680 watts of continuous solar power. You can further expand the SolarPack to produce up to 680 watts of additional power. As long as you do not need to draw more than 600 watts of AC power from a single power plug, we have the solution for you.

One may think that a portable generator can also perform the same operation more economically. Let’s look at this statement in more detail. In order to verify this, we need to add up the total cost of your generator solution and compare it to our greener, solar solution.

Let’s make some assumptions and then ‘do the math’. If you have a nice reliable generator, say a Honda EU model that consumes about 2 gallons of petroleum per day, then the following table can be generated based on fuel prices in different countries. If we look at the ‘# of Running Years per $5000 in Gas’ column, we can see that the ROI (Return On Investment) works out to as little as one year, depending on the country you live in. This is based on the SolarPack price minus the generator cost leaving you with about $5,000.00 to purchase petroleum. This does not take into consideration oil changes or the remedial or preventive maintenance that the generator will require to operate properly.

The cost to offset one ton of CO2 ranges from a low of $1.00 to a high of approximately $30.00. If we use an average cost of $15.00 per ton of CO2 then we can look at that cost as well. (Paradoxically, one gallon of gasoline produces 20 pounds of CO2.)


ccom t2 sm 0510 If we are using approximately 2 gallons per day, we consume 730 gallons per year. For a larger (more than 1000 watts) unit, and one that is not so efficient, these numbers are going to increase accordingly. Therefore, such a solution will not only turn out to be expensive in the long run, but will also pollute the environment.

Now that we have established that you should be using solar power and, in particular, the iNetVu® SolarPack 1600 system, let’s look at the type of batteries you should use. With the SolarPack, you have two choices. You can use traditional lead-acid or the newer type lithium batteries. There are significant differences between them.

The lead-acid battery can provide good power transfer, is fairly inexpensive, but there is a trade off against the number of charge cycles it can handle and it also weighs quite a bit. The lithium battery, on the other hand, is very light, can still operate below 80 percent capacity, and can deliver large amounts of energy when needed. It is also significantly more expensive than the lead-acid type. The following table shows the calculated run times for both the lead-acid and lithium batteries using a variety of load conditions. If you need more run time at a certain power level, you can add an additional battery pack, which will increase the run time by approximately 80 percent. The lead-acid battery we have chosen to use provides 100 amp hours of power and the lithium provides 110 amp hours. These figures assume NO power generation from the solar panels.

After reviewing the run time statistics for the two different batteries offered with the iNetVu®
SolarPack solution, you may still not know which battery is the correct choice for you. There are some additional features that need to be considered.

ccom t3 sm 0510 This table describes the operational parameters that must also be considered...

Just to make sure you have all of the information you need, we would also like to provide a small comparison of the price difference between these two different battery solutions.

If we create a real-world situation and then apply the costs to that situation, we can analyze the options in greater detail. Assume an operation that draws 250 watts of power from the battery, has solar power to recharge the system, needs to run for 14 hours per day, and has sun available for 10 hours per day. Based on these parameters, we will need to generate power from the batteries for 4 hours per day.

If we check in the run time table we will see that the lithium battery can produce 4.92 hours of power at 250 watts and we can use a single battery to run for the 4 hours required. As this requirement will draw the battery down to near 100 percent discharge, the lithium can do 2,000 cycles before the battery has reached its expected life. That translates into 5 years and 5 months of usage, based on 7 days usage per week.

If we do the same calculation using lead-acid batteries, the results are quite different. In order to provide 4 hours a day of power during absence of sun light, we would need 2 lead-acid batteries (see table above). This current draw will discharge the batteries to near 100 percent of their power.

The lead-acid battery can be discharged to 100 percent only 200 times before the battery becomes unusable. To maintain the 5 years of battery life, as in the case of the lithium battery above, we will need to replace both lead-acid batteries 9 times (once every 200 days).

While the lead-acid battery costs approximately $500.00 each, over 5 years, it will cost $9,000 to replace lead-acid batteries (2 batteries to replace 9 times) using the above described scenario. The lithium battery will only cost $3,000 and will not need to be replaced during its 5 years of usage.

As with any technology, a decision should be based on these facts. When all the facts are known about a solar-based solution, it becomes clear that not only is it a green solution, but it can be a very practical solution as well. Before you buy, ask the tough questions, get the
correct answers, verify the answers and enjoy your power without the monthly bills.

About the author
Paul Seguin is a Satellite Application Specialist with C-COM Satellite System Inc. Paul has more than 18 years of communications experience, which include developing software, hardware as well as communication and security applications for the Canadian Banking industry.