DIY Electricity and Internet for Burning Man


Despite this being [Kenneth Finnegan's] first Burning Man, the guy came prepared and stayed connected by setting up a beefy electricity supply and a faint yet functional internet connection. If you saw [Kenneth's] Burning Man slideshow, you know that the desert is but a mild deterrent against power, water, and even temporary runways.

He borrowed a 20V 100W solar panel from Cal Poly and picked up a bargain-price TSMT-20A solar charge controller off eBay. The controller babysits the batteries by preventing both overcharging and over-discharging. The batteries—two Trojan-105 220Ah 6V behemoths—came limping out of a scissor lift on their last legs of life: a high internal resistance ruled out large current draws. Fortunately, the power demands were low, as the majority of devices were 12VDC or USB. [Kenneth] also had conveniently built this USB power strip earlier in the year, which he brought along to step down to 5VDC for USB charging.

Internet in the desert, however, was less reliable. A small team provides a microwave link from civilization every summer, which is shared via open access points in 3 different camps. [Kenneth] pointed his Ubiquiti NanoStation at the nearest one, which provided a host of inconvenient quirks and top speeds of 2-20kBps: enough, at least, to check emails.


  1. Indyaner says:

    Sparkfun lately also published a video where someone talks about power supply by a solar power charger for Burning Man:

  2. fartface says:

    China Solar parts FTW! Sadly most of the US made stuff is grossly overpriced.

    • Augur says:

      Exactly. And the China stuff… Well its from China, no gaurantee that it’ll be as it claims.. lol

    • KleenexCommando says:

      Oh, you mean over priced as in the company needs to make a profit and pay its employees a wage at which they can live, people that are probably your neighbor? We wouldn’t want those people to make a living would we? And we certainly wouldn’t want the American company to have to pay to have its waste properly disposed of, as we all know waste is better when dumped into the nearest body of water and the the air for all of us to enjoy… It’s always better when we opt for the cheapest junk possible from china, undercut our own economy so they can pollute the environment and abuse their people with wreckless abandon. FTW…

  3. Erik Johnson says:

    I’d brought a 20v 30W pane with me, SCC, and deep cycle marine battery (yellow top, unknown capacity) to power our camp lights and recharge everyone’s USB devices – all cameras, phones for cameras. The panel just barely kept up for the load we gave the battery

    • Greenaum says:

      The “nominal” specs on a solar panel are usually only accurate if you live on Mercury. Or possibly in a desert. And that’s if they’re facing the sun. In temperate climates you might get a quarter of what you’re expecting.

  4. Ren says:

    IMHO, I’d like to see the steampunk and technology of Burning Man,
    but the thought of seeing even ONE old fat naked person (shudder!)
    while there keeps me from even thinking about going.

  5. Dopesick says:

    People have forgotten about what Burning Man was started for…… :-(

    • pcf11 says:

      Remind us.

    • Kenneth Finnegan says:

      I can’t forget what I wasn’t told. I did a tremendous amount of research before hand, and got a very clear message that BM is a test of self reliance and an exhibition of art and technology in a harsh environment. What part of running our entire camp on solar and helping build a city-wide ad-hoc computer network isn’t Burning Man enough for you?

      • pcf11 says:

        Maybe the naked old fat people walking around part? I read once that Burning Man started on a beach in California but they were asked to move. I’m pretty sure Burning Man was about getting stoned, and not much else.

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