Opportunities in Portable Solar Charging and NRG’s Investment Focus

NRG Energy, an independent power producer, is acquiring portable solar device maker Goal Zero for an undisclosed sum. It will incorporate the five-year-old company into its NRG Home division, which focuses on residential customers, offering solar and home energy products and services.

Salt Lake City-based Goal Zero is the leading developer of portable solar power charging systems with its core products targeting adventure travelers. Products include portable solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and accessories including lights, lanterns, flashlights, and speakers. Its best-selling device is the Guide 10, a portable kit packaged with solar panels, which can be affixed to a backpack or bag to charge batteries (see their product list on REI’s website.)

Goal Zero Guide 10 Adventure Kit

Goal Zero raised $10.9 million in venture capital from investors including In-Q-Tel, Marcato Partners, and Sorenson Capital. The company grew from $250,000 in revenue in 2009 to $35 million in 2013. The company currently employs 120 people.

Strong Trends

According to Jeff Crystal, COO of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Voltaic Systems, another portable solar power charging company, there are some strong trends underpinning growth in this market. People are now more dependent than ever on portable devices, and are even communicating with friends and family during trips to far-flung places, such as regularly posting trip updates in the form of videos and blogs, he says. Also, consumers are now more aware that solar technology actually works, and it has become cost effective enough for manufacturers to develop price competitive portable systems. Some key areas of growth for portable solar powered charging systems include charging small-scale systems for emergency preparedness, and applications in the developing world, says Crystal.

Key Players in the Portable Power Market

Better Energy Systems  

Battery Pack + Solar Charger

Launched in 2004 in Berkeley, Calif., Better Energy Systems develops solar chargers for mobile phones, portable digital assistants, music players, digital cameras, GPS systems, and game consoles. In addition, the company manufactures bags and cases handcrafted from re-engineered rubber. It raised $2.2 million in venture capital funding in August 2010.



Voltaic Systems

Voltaic Systems is a portable power company based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Its products include solar chargers for iPhones, tablets and laptops.  It offers stand alone chargers, solar backpacks, bags, solar kits, and batteries.

Fuse 4W Solar Charger







BirkSun LLC, launched in January 2013, is a vertically integrated manufacturer of solar backpacks, external batteries, and USB cables.

Solar Messenger Bag







Basecamp Stove

Founded in 2009, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based BioLite develops a portable stove that uses small branches and twigs as fuel, while a fans blows air into the fire to improve combustion, thereby reducing air pollution. Biolite’s thermoelectric technology powers the fan and the extraneous energy can be used to charge small electronics like mobile phones and LED lights.



Eclipse Solar Gear

Eclipse Solar Backpack

Launched in 2003, Eclipse develops solar charging carrying cases for all your mobile personal electronics solar backpacks, solar messenger bags, solar camera bags, solar bicycle bags, and other quality cases designed to charge the batteries of common handheld electronics including: cell phones, smartphones, tablets, iPads, GPS units, action cams, and other mobile and wearable technologies.



What is NRG Investing In?

NRG’s acquisition of an innovative distributed solar startup shouldn’t come as any surprise to those that have heard CEO David Crane speak at recent industry conferences that we’ve reported on:

“Distributed solar is the future of the solar industry,” said Crane, speaking at The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference last year. “The great thing about solar is the sun shines where people live… you don’t need transmission lines and you don’t need the wind.”

Crane also said, “When you see a disruptive technology come into your space if you don’t embrace it… the people who try and cling to the past get rolled over.”

Inspired by Northeastern power outages incurred by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New Jersey-based NRG introduced a residential solar electric system with energy storage called the Solar Pergola in April 2013.

Another innovation inspired by Hurricane Sandy was its freestanding, customizable solar power structures called the Solar Canopy, launched in October 2013, which can address power needs during grid emergencies.

NRG Solar Canopy

Here are some links to our coverage of CEO David Crane discussing  technologies that he believes are at the cusp of transforming clean energy, including smart meter technology, plug-in electric vehicles, distributed solar generation, and fuel cells.

NRG’s recent strategic venture investments include:

– 11/5/13 – Entouch Controls, a provider of cloud-based energy management systems for restaurant and retail chains.

– 10/14/13 – EcoFactor, a cloud based home energy management platform that takes data from Internet-connected, third-party thermostats and uses it to deliver energy savings in homes.

– 7/17/13 – On-Ramp Wireless, a provider of wireless systems that facilitate communication between hard-to-reach devices in wide area networks.

– 5/20/13 – EoS Energy Storage, produces low cost zinc-air energy storage for the electric utility and transportation sectors.





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