The People Making Solar Power Where the Sun Doesn’t Set


Three-panel solar array (for rechargeable battery pack) soaking up sunlight. Photo courtesy the author
Three-panel solar array (for rechargeable battery pack) soaking up sunlight. Photo courtesy the author
AT THE ARCTIC CIRCLE, NWT—If I had to prioritize the most important gear I brought with me on this climate change reporting trip, the portable solar panels would rank pretty high.

By Brian Castner | MOTHERBOARD

The canoe and paddles probably have to come first. Then my DeLorme inReach, a fantastic device that acts as both GPS and text-via-satellite link to the outside world. But then, next on the list, my method of charging that device: a system from Goal Zero, a three-panel array and heavy rechargeable battery pack. The sun never set, and so I could put the system outside the tent at night and find a charged battery in the morning.

The longest stretch of the Mackenzie River without human settlement is the section between Fort Good Hope and Tsiigehtchic, over 200 miles of gorge, wind, mud, rain, and grizzly bear that crosses the Arctic Circle. It took me a week of paddling to traverse it, and I never saw another person, boat, or plane. If the canoe capsized and I got stranded in that rocky socket of wilderness, I could drink the water from the river and survive without food for days, but unless I had a fully charged inReach, I couldn’t call for help. My communications, my navigating, my hope of rescue, all relied on electricity provided by my solar panel.

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