A San Francisco company is building elegant mobile microgrids that deliver renewable power anywhere it’s needed. And they double as art installations.
Southern Beams Builds makes Dragon Wings, 30-kilowatt (kW) solar-battery generators in 20-foot mobile containers, with retractable photovoltaic arrays that unfold like the wings of mythical beasts. The containers can be delivered anywhere on a flatbed, take two minutes to open, five minutes to set up, and along with renewable power, provide 1,300 square feet/20 square metres of shade and shelter when operating, co-founder and CEO Ryan Wartena told The Energy Mix in an email. Being modular, as many as eight containers may be linked together, and they also come in configurations for 60- to 90-kW, 150- to 225-kW, and 300- to 450-kW AC power services.
The company describes the microgrids as “gas and diesel generator killers” with the “superpower” to self-close under extreme conditions. Deployed at the Burning Man art festival in the Nevada desert last summer, one such container “energized a kitchen that fed 400 people per day and withstood up to 40-mph winds,” reports Microgrid Knowledge. That unit has been purchased by the Blue Marble Acres regenerative farm for electric vehicle charging and agricultural purposes.
EV charging is one of the most promising markets for the devices, Wartena said. “People who are developing EV charging want to be able to install it quickly,” he explained, a need thwarted in the United States by the two-to four-year wait time for a grid connection. Mobile microgrids like Dragon Wings allow EV fleet owners to skip that wait.
Over the long term, the company wants to create 300 Dragon Fields of 100 acres (40 hectares) each, transit hubs across the U.S. that each have 1,000 Dragon Wings for charging EVs.
Wartena told The Mix that Southern Beam Builds is also looking to serve solar and real estate development companies interested in renting Dragon Wings to reduce construction emissions.
The wings could also play a key role during extreme weather events. A single system “could serve clusters of about five homes during outages and could potentially be deployed by utilities instead of fossil fuel generators,” Microgrid Knowledge says.
It’s not just the technology that’s new, but also the financing structure, Wartena added. Dragon Wings offers a rent-share program, allowing customers to buy units and put them back into the company’s fleet for rent by others. Southern Beams Builds then shares the rental revenue with those owners. The idea is that the mobile generators’ infrastructure is not tied to a piece of land and continues to have value, like an EV, Wartena told Microgrid Knowledge.
On top of their numerous practical applications, the wings are meant to serve beauty wherever deployed, Wartena noted.
“Making solar beautiful, individually and at scale, that is the art project,” he said.
The idea for Dragon Wings “grew out of a 2005 art project, Seed of Life Activation, which appeared at Burning Man and was a large-scale interactive installation of LED lights, run on a gas generator,” Microgrid Knowledge writes. Wartena noticed the power source and felt the dissonance of using dirty power to create beautiful art. In 2020, he collaborated with artist Zach Coffin to build go-anywhere microgrids that would be beautiful as well as highly functional.