From The Engineers | The Nomad 7 Plus

From The Engineers | The Nomad 7 Plus
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We recently released our new Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel, a panel that we feel is a big step up from our current product offering. We sat down with a few of our engineers to hear what they had to say about the panel, the design process, and the tech behind it.

Where we stand with solar Keyvan Vasefi, VP of Engineering

When you think about a solar panel and how we capture energy, there are a few components. At the very basic level there’s the cell, which is this silicon wafer that’s about 5 inches wide and is designed to take light and turn it into electricity at its most basic level. So everyone in the solar industry is trying to do a lot of research and figure out what the next step we can take in terms of efficiency; if you have X amount of cells with light hitting the surface, how much power are you actually getting out of it versus what you should theoretically get out of it.

There are improvements being made by the industry and things have changed a lot in the last 15-20 years; however, recently it has been only small incremental improvements in efficiency. Some of these improvements take you from 20% to 25% efficiency but they can cost you five times as much. It’s important to find the balance between cost and efficiency, but in a lot of situations it is just better to have a little more surface area than to pay five times as much.

Much of our focus and innovation happens beyond the cell. We find the best cells that we can for our application, then a lot of the benefits you get from our work happens after you turn solar energy into electricity. That’s where we’ve done a lot of interesting work with our new generation of panels. We’re worked to answer the question; how do the electronics maximize the capacity of the solar cells. That’s where we’re at right now because the technologies out there seem to hit this wall of efficiency and cost, but we are always working on more efficient cells.

The new panel Keyvan Vasefi, VP of Engineering

The easiest way to explain the new panel is to compare it to the previous version. When you think about the current Nomad panel on the market, it’s a fully integrated product. But I like to think of the Nomad 7 Plus Solar Panel as more of an ecosystem. We decided to break down the panel further to better optimize it for certain use cases. What we ended up with was instead of just one panel with everything on it, you now have three subsystems.

The first subsystem is just the panel itself that takes the photovoltaic energy (sunlight), captures it and turns it into electricity. We worked to make this subsystem the best that we could and took it from the 16 oz. on the V2 to now be 4 oz.

The second subsystem is the junction box. On the old panel it was built onto the back pouch, with the Nomad 7 Plus we decided to split that off and make it a modular component. Technology is constantly changing, especially with USB and mobile devices, so we wanted to create a way, if we need to, for people to upgrade without having to buy a whole new panel. The other thing we worked on was to build a level of optimization into the electronics.

Think of a solar panel as a car. The engine is designed to work at an optimal amount of horsepower at a certain RPM and if you didn’t have a multi-gear transmission, you would have a really hard time getting that car to both go up a hill at 10 mph or fly down the freeway at 70 mph. The only way to get that engine to work efficiently is to use that multi-gear transmission. There’s a technology in the solar industry called Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) which is effectively an automatic transmission for a solar panel. The solar panel is designed for a certain peak and the MPPT controller effectively makes the panel feel like it is operating at peak performance even if there aren’t optimal atmospheric conditions. It basically allows us to use all available energy coming from the panel while minimizing waste. This technology hasn’t traditionally been put in portable panels, so we challenged ourselves to get some level of MPPT tech into our electronics and we now developed and patent-pending process to do just that in the Nomad 7 Plus.

The third subsystem is the kickstand and we worked to build a few different solutions into it. By nature, panels are trying to capture as much solar energy as they can so they heat up. Batteries don’t like heat so you can easily run into problems putting a battery right on the back of a solar panel or built-into one. We purposefully designed the kickstand to provide a buffer from the heat of the panel. It also allows users to set the panel out at a nice little angle without having to find something to lean it against.

The need to change Sterling Robison, Electrical Engineer

Everything we did on the Nomad 7 Plus was to get around certain pain points we found with the older version. One of which was improving the charging experience for phones. What we did to address that was first, the dynamic auto-restart feature. There’s a few other products out there doing something similar, but they don’t directly solve the problem. We’ve actually got an algorithm in there that watches for your phone to say, “Hey, I’m not going to charge anymore. There’s something wrong here,” which usually happens as a result of a cloud or something interrupting the supply of power. Instead of waiting around for things to sort themselves out, this algorithm takes over, communicates with your phone and gets things moving again.

The other thing we did was the MPPT, where we have the ability to measure the available solar power coming from the solar panel and then, through another algorithm, we can match the available power with what your phone is asking for. We developed a way of helping your phone take less power by manipulating the level of power on the output of the USB.

We also wanted to help people use the panel more efficiently so we added the Solar Intensity Indicator. It’s not just a light that shows you the sun is out, it actually shows you how much power is available for use. Hopefully that fixes the situation where people aren’t positioning their panels correctly and takes the guesswork out of charging times from solar. Another thing I’m really excited about is being able to know not only how much power is available, but how much power is my device actually taking. What a lot of people don’t know is there are quite a few variables when it comes to how much power is going into their phones; like how long your cord is or how you even plugged in the device. We set up the indicator lights to communicate through blink rate on those same LEDs. We wanted people to be able to quickly recognize what is a fast or slow charge.

Basically you’ll put the Nomad 7 Plus in the sun and you’ll see some number of the LEDs light up. Roughly what that means is for a single LED you have about two watts of sun and when you have all four lit you have about five watts or more. So those will be solid lights. On top of that, to get the information about how fast your device is charging we’ve got a blink rate. We feel like we’ve nailed a frequency there that people just inherently understand. I think after people use it a few times they will quickly pick up what’s a good charge and what’s not.

The combination of all these developments will hopefully help people have a better experience when charging from solar.

Look and feel Hank Howell, Industrial Designer

The Nomad 7 Plus was actually a very challenging design project because it’s a solar panel. There are so many solar panels out there now; it’s a flat 2D design project. So it was difficult to find a way to make it really jump forward and be innovative. We looked at a whole bunch of different ways of doing it; we tried to break out of the box of sewing and stitching. We didn’t want to do it the same old way. We stumbled on this technique that we’re using now which is a lamination process. We can make the panel super flat and thin which takes a lot of the weight out while also improving the durability, water resistance, and temperature regulation. So it’s pretty exciting to see it come together.

The main feature from and industrial design perspective is the leg which acts as a kickstand. It can hold the panel up at the right angle, it has a pocket built into it that you can put your rechargers or phone in, and if you don’t want to use it, you can just pop it off.

This design was really driven by the lamination process. We really had to get a good grasp on how this lamination process was going to work and then we had to work within those confines. What layer gets the graphic? Is it laid on top or is it laminated within? Things like that kept the project really interesting and it was a lot of fun to get into a different world of design. Also figuring out what we could do with the kickstand to not add weight or complexity but still make it really user-friendly and easy to understand. That whole process was a lot of fun and it did take some time.

The panel is lighter mainly because we were able to change the PCB that we stick the solar wafers to. It’s thinner, but it doesn’t sacrifice much strength and it’s a very rigid material. We got rid of all the extra fabric, stitching, zippers, cords, and junction boxes and really consolidated everything.

The Nomad 7 Plus is a lot more refined and simple. So it’s a lot smarter in every way.

SHOP NOW > Nomad 7 Plus

14 Comments

  1. Jeff 1 year ago

    Will you be extending these enhancements to the other Nomad products (13 and 20)?

  2. Yoshi 1 year ago

    Please release the Nomad 14 Plus for sale. Thanks.

  3. Gregory Hummel 1 year ago

    Great to see that Goal Zero is taking back it’s place ahead of the pack with innovative engineering and design features. I’ve owned Nomad 7’s v1 and v2 panels and found the rest of the market had caught up by the time the v2 version came out. It made it undistinguished with some solid competition. Even if the new Plus version managed only to get rid of that frustrating “This device might not be compatible” iPhone message (that completely stops the charge process until you re-plug it) it would still be miles ahead of the other panels. Everything else the Plus offers is a bonus and icing on the cake, though very nice and great to experience! Welcome back to the top shelf of solar panels Goal Zero!

  4. sean 1 year ago

    Well so far I love the products and I have almost everything you make. Although, what I am waiting for is a good percentage increase in charge time and of course charging during cloudy days. Ya never know when we will need these devices in a pinch.

    Dr. Sean

    • Seth 1 year ago

      In order to get solid performance if diffuse sunlight amorphous silicon is the way to go.

  5. Dave 1 year ago

    Great article! Glad to see it all come together. Stoked for you guys! Good work GZ team!

  6. EW1 1 year ago

    I love the similpicity and lightweight features of this panel. It works much better and sets up quicker than the last. I own a lot of thier panels from the Boulder 90 to the old 5w models and this is the top in terms of quality and functional design. I hope to see GZ add this design to the 20 and even the larger models. Price is the only negative and perhaps that’s due to NRG’s slice or the stock dividend

  7. Thomas 1 year ago

    Solar Panel is a great idea . It’s really profitable to use solar panels los angeles is provided with clean power due to this .

  8. blas 1 year ago

    Hey! Very good improvements, now we wait for the Nomad 14 Plus! :) Do you have any news about that?

  9. Jean 11 months ago

    Understand you are coming out with a Yeti 1400 in January with lithium batteries. Would like to
    know more about this new product. Please email me on details and price. Thanks, Jean

  10. Josh 10 months ago

    Great article! It seems as if you guys are making great strides into evolving your solar panels. The Nomad sounds like its much more refined and just better overall. My only question is will you be updating your other panels as well? It would be nice to see the larger panels evolve as well.

    • Author
      goalzero 10 months ago

      Thanks for your comments. We are evolving the larger panels as well. Look forward to next year for launch.

  11. Dan Phister 5 months ago

    Can the 7plus be connect in tandem with older 7 panels? and if so, does the tandem assembly charge a cell phone directly?

    • Author
      goalzero 5 months ago

      The Nomad 7 Plus is not chainable.

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