Solar for the Bourgeoisie

Bummed. Had this big idea to do solar-powered, Mac-based web hosting. On first conversation with an employee at Sun Light and Power, it had sounded like I could power a G4 with a single 120W panel, a $50 RV battery, and a $60 RV inverter. I borrowed the Watts Up to measure actual consumption and went back to Solar Dude with my numbers today.

The server, with LCD monitor, DSL modem and router draws 162 watts constant (8.67 kwh in 57.5 hrs). Assuming fixed-position panels on a South-facing roof in the East Bay, figure around 4.5 hours/day of usable sunlight. So I would need six 160w panels to keep the batteries charged day and night, not one. The panels run $500-$600 each. Comparing against our electric bill, it turns out that if the system had required one panel, it would have paid for itself in four years (tax rebates don’t apply unless you do grid-tie (sell your electricity back to the utility)). I was willing to bite off four years in exchange for the customer draw of solar-powered web hosting. But unless solar panels start falling from the sky (gently), it’s not going to happen. Panels make electricity out of thin air and are therefore pure gold. That’s also why there is virtually no used market for them.

Turns out you can get up and running with wind energy for about half the price of solar, although I’m not going to try and do that in a rental. And those stories about windmills killing so many birds on the Altamont Pass? Wives’ tales, apparently. Solar Dude says there have only been two confirmed bird kills there.

Question for the electrical geniuses — Solar Dude said it seemed like my server was drawing a lot of power. For comparison, we plugged his 1.8 GHz Pentium into the Watts Up and it drew 80w. So if the PowerPC is so energy efficient, why is my single PPC 867MHz drawing nearly twice what a Pentium draws (albeit with LCD in sleep mode, modem and router)? Of course the setup cost would still be huge even if I went x86.

Anyway, fossil-fueled birdhouse hosting is now up and running with a small handful of customers. Bring it on. Not giving up on the idea… maybe I need to write a grant for free panels or something.

Music: Aimee Mann :: The Fall of the World’s Own Optimist

8 Replies to “Solar for the Bourgeoisie”

  1. There was a company who were offering high-speed internet access via some kind of dish grid system that hopped the signal from office tower to office tower. They generated all the power to run it with wind and solar, and they apparently generated enough that as an added bonus, they provided emergency backup power services for your servers and such alongside internet access. They never did end up selecting our building for their services, but I think I have their business card. The URL on the card is:

    The business card is obviously printed on an inkjet printer, and I have no idea if these people are in any way legit. or not. I never really investigated it.

  2. Scot: Check out Home Power magazine. There is a thriving used market for this stuff in the back of it, and they (Home Power) cover this sort of thing all the time.

    Oh, btw, Starcaster offers portable satellite link hardware that is small enough to FEDEX to places, I’m assuming it’s probably usable with alternative power. You wouldn’t even have to be on the grid for *data*. Cool, eh? :)

    -Jim (who keeps thinking that an old microbus with solar panels, wireless network, and the portable satellite link might make a salable service at events like Burning Man, or SCA events and such like. Sure you’re living primitive, but you still gotta check your mail… :)

  3. hey jim — no selling at burning man!!! but i’m sure it would be welcome if gratis (donated. or do they encourage bartering…?)


  4. I saw this posting and thought you might want to take a look at a web hosting company for your web site that is inexpensive, yet they are environmentally friendly and have unsuppressed support. They are featured in Wired and Entrepreneur(Nov. 05 issue) magazines. Promote your business by letting people know your helping the environment by having your web site hosted by solar! Everyone nowadays wants an environmentally friendly car, do the same for your web site. You can get your web site hosted for as low as $9.95 a month! Check out their web site at A little more about them… Affordable Internet Services Online, Inc.( is a reliable and responsible green energy web site hosting company. They have made a strong commitment to help fight pollution and preserving our natural resources along with providing unsurpassed toll-free and e-mail support. 120+ Solar panels run their data center and office. Solar tubes bring in natural light from the outside providing light during the day. AMD Opteron powered servers use sixty percent less energy and generate fifty percent less heat. These are just some of the ways is becoming the world’s most responsible green energy hosting company.

  5. AISO, thanks for the post. Actually, Birdhouse IS a hosting company, not just a user. So I was actually curious about finding a solar datacenter, not just an account on a shared server. Do you guys do anything like that? Not that it’s likely I’d be willing to put all my current users through uprooting IPs etc. — just curious for the future.

  6. AISO.Net is a data center to, we have hundreds of co-location and dedicated clients in our data center. We would be pleased and able to support you if you were to move your systems to us, plus we have awesome support(speak to a live person). We were also featured in Wired and Entrepreneur magazines. You can check out our press release here:

    And our Wired and Entrepreneur magazines links here:,2782,67785,00.html,1539,324100,00.html

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