VAIL — Whether it’s a soundstage at a concert or a Christmas tree lighting, Vail’s Volts Wagon has got it covered.
The custom built, portable solar-panel trailer makes a unique addition to Vail’s quiver of environmentally friendly initiatives and allows event organizers to plug into renewable energy anywhere within the town. Moveable solar panel units, which operate like solar-run generators, are commonly used at construction sites or at private homes, but Vail is among a growing number of municipalities choosing to get on the grid — and help the community do so as well. The idea was inspired by Aspen’s Sunny the Solar Roller, a similar solar trailer.
The Volts Wagon, designed by Minturn-based Active Energies Solar, consists of two 4-foot by 6-foot solar panels that collect energy from the sun. That energy is stored in large batteries inside the trailer, and the trailer can then be transported by any vehicle with a hitch. The Volts Wagon will be available for use at any Vail event free of charge.
When the sun is shining, the Volts Wagon will provide 500 watts of power consistently. When the sun is not shining, the Wagon’s four 224-amp, 6-volt batteries can provide 4,000 watts of power up to 14 hours, depending on how much power is needed. As Vail’s Environmental Sustainability coordinator Kristen Bertuglia said, it isn’t a large amount of energy, but it’s enough to power something such as a small set of speakers for the Vail Jazz Festival’s weekly performances, or to hold a holiday tree lighting using the town’s LED lights. In full sun, the Wagon will power the equivalent of smaller band speakers, several laptop computers, audio/MC equipment, coffee makers and other small appliances all day long. When the trailer isn’t in use at an event, it’s plugged into the town’s municipal building, offsetting the town’s grid use.
“It could power a small soundstage system for a few hours,” said Jason Weingast, of Active Energies Solar. “It’s a great alternative to using a generator.”
The Volts Wagon cost about $10,000 and was purchased with the help of sponsors Active Energies, Antlers at Vail, Highline and First Bank.
The Volts Wagon will offer yet another way for event promoters to meet the town’s green standards. The Celebrate Green! program requires promoters to meet certain sustainability standards — say, recycling, nixing the use of Styrofoam and properly disposing of wastewater. Beyond that, event organizers can earn additional green points by using alternative fuel vehicles, composting, purchasing carbon credits and, of course, using the Volts Wagon.
“It’s a program that started as a way to [be an] incentive [for] special events to go green,” Bertuglia said. “The events that get the maximum number of points can receive the Celebrate Green! Award and get a refund of their permit fees.”
Some promoters have incorporated some creatively green aspects in their events. The Vail Farmers’ Market has a zero-waste program incorporating composting and recycling, while also using compostable utensils and dishes. There are even volunteers on hand at the event to help attendees properly dispose of their trash.
In some ways, the Volts Wagon is just as much a publicity measure as it is an energy-saving measure. Town officials hope that the trailer’s presence at events will pique public interest in photovoltaic energy. The Wagon will travel to local schools, allowing students the opportunity to see how solar power works, up close and personal.
“It’s such a great way to bring solar power off the roof. You can see it and touch it, and from an educational standpoint it’s great. The goal is to get it into the community and get them interested in solar power,” Bertuglia said.
There is a growing interest in photovoltaic power, said Weingast, of Active Energies. While the Volts Wagon was a special product built for the town, solar systems have been popping up around the valley.
“We’ve been doing this for seven years, and demand has gone up,” he said. “Also, there are some good rebates and incentives available. In fact, solar is currently cheaper than power from the grid.”