For homeowners there are plenty of ways of plugging into solar power, but for apartment dwellers the situation is often much trickier. But for people in Germany, portable solar panels for your balcony might offer a pretty nifty solution.
If you own your own house, you have plenty of opportunities to generate your own power and ultimately go off grid. With downhole heat exchangers, for example, or by setting up small wind turbines in your garden. The most common way of going about it however, is by installing solar panels on the roof - turning all those golden rays into a source of clean, green energy.
But what about people who live in city apartments, or who are renting, and can't make such drastic structural changes to their homes? While they don't have as much of freedom of course, they too have the possibility to generate their own sustainable energy. Okay, so it's not a huge amount, but it's thought that small portable solar power plants could provide their owners with five per cent of their energy needs. These mini solar power plants can be set up on the balcony or terrace and simply plugged directly into an outlet
One example of this is "simon", a mini solar power plant that can generate electricity anywhere and any time - no roof or garden needed. Distributed by Greenpeace Energy and Germany's oekostrom gmbH, it has a peak power performance of 150 watts - roughly enough to cook lunch for two people or charge three iPads. All you have to do is unpack it, set it up in your apartment's sunniest spot, and plug it in. The electricity flows through the outdoor socket and directly into your different devices, whether it be the fridge, television, charger or computer.
New Opportunities for Apartment Dwellers in Germany
It hasn't always been easy for German households to install mini solar power stations in their homes. Arguing that they might endanger the safety of the electricity network, German grid operators - such as the mighty Dortmund-based Westnetz, for example - have often blocked their use.
But now the situation is looking up for renters in Germany who want to make the most of the sunlight hitting their balconies all day. Just earlier this year, Westnetz confirmed that all that was needed to set up a portable solar power plant was the contact details of the person operating it, its location and the device's technical details. And that's it! Plug it in and you're ready to go. Greenpeace Energy expects that this statement from Westnetz could be used as an argument by all consumers throughout Germany - regardless of the region - if they run into any trouble with their local grid operators.
These mini solar panels might have a relatively small impact in the grand scheme of things, but nonetheless they contribute to the increasing decentralisation of energy production and as such, they're another step towards the gradual switch to 100% renewables. And if the sustainability argument doesn't work for you - it could see you save a bit on your electricity bill too.
This article is a translation by Marisa Pettit of the original which first appeared on RESET's German-language site.