Solar Innovation of the Year: Edinburg man wins award for mobile solar generator

Steve Van Stee turns on his company's GenaCrate-M mobile solar generator. The unit is designed to have similar capabilities to a diesel generator. Nathan Budryk/Daily

EDINBURG – Innovation is the engine that drives industry and Steve Van Stee, of Edinburg, has been doing quite a bit of driving in the realm of solar-generated power.

His latest brainchild, the GenaCrate M mobile solar generator, was awarded “Solar Innovation of the Year” at November’s Maryland, D.C., Virginia Solar Energy Installers Association conference. The unit, which is designed to take the place of a traditional diesel generator, is the latest in a series of innovations from the mind of Van Stee and his L.L.C. SolarCrate.

“This is a real feather in our cap,” Van Stee said of the award. “This is huge. I went to this conference with 500 people from all across the United States in the industry who were there. We’re really looking forward to the good publicity that this is going to generate.”

Van Stee said that he hopes to sell his unit via contracts as well as to individuals looking to save some money on power and lessen their contribution to air pollution.

“I’ve got a contact at the Department of Energy who is very interested in this,” he said. “Because we now have an award associated with it, as the Solar Innovation of the Year, that’s going to, I think, give us a little more horsepower with the folks in the D.C. area. … There’s still money for contracts out there.”

Steve Van Stee shows off his GenaCrate-M mobile solar generator, which recently won the award for solar innovation of the year from the Maryland, D.C., Virginia Solar Energy Installers Association in November. Nathan Budryk/Daily

Van Stee has ambitious goals when it comes to the implementation of his generators and said that they could be a big help in disaster areas.

“What I would like to see, ultimately, is the state or the government contract for 30, 50, 75 of these things that they can place strategically around the state or the country, especially places (like) Florida, Georgia, Mississippi that are subject to hurricanes all the time. They do that right now with diesel generator sets, but those have to have maintenance done on them. This guy, when it’s sitting in a parking lot, there’s no maintenance.”

The maintenance-free apparatus is also completely silent with no exhaust, two of the major drawbacks of a traditional gas-powered generator. The machine has a mast-type formation that raises and lowers. It contains the panels – two with 60 cells apiece – and folds flat automatically by way of a winch for easy transport. The cells capture the sun’s energy, store it in batteries contained in the trailer, and supply power to outlets throughout the trailer. Van Stee said the machine has a 220-volt output.

The version housed at Van Stee’s Edinburg shop is a proof-of-concept, prototype model. He said that with the next version, he will make some changes. The unit costs around $12,000.

“We’re going to build a couple more of these units,” he said. “We’ve got a few little changes. The next one is going to be on a heavier trailer with bigger tires, it’s going to have 15-inch tires – the current model is on 12-inch tires – that trailer has a capacity of about 2,000 pounds. The trailer that it’s going on has a capacity of 3,500 pounds.”

Van Stee is proud of the work he and his company do and said that with improved marketing, SolarCrate products will be in high demand.

“I’ve been working with battery-based solar for five years,” he said. “The stuff that I build, a lot of them are really really cool products and once we get our marketing in place, I think they’re really going to sell. They’re good products. I stand behind them and I want everybody to have them and also I want to make them so people can afford them.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com