NRG’s acquisition of Goal Zero brings portable solar power a step closer to mainstream

Why not better leverage the sun’s free energy? (NASA/AP)

In an era of constantly dying smartphone batteries, power outlets are the oases of the 21st century. Seats at airports, conferences, restaurants and more are often selected after considering the proximity to an outlet. But this is unlikely to be a permanent dilemma given likely innovations in the energy sector.

NRG announced Thursday the acquisition of Goal Zero, a maker of portable solar powered devices. NRG, an energy company with a forward-thinking agenda, wants to supply mobile, renewable power to the average consumer.

“I don’t like to see those people sitting on the floor by a plug by a bathroom,” NRG Retail president Elizabeth Killinger said. “I want people to be up and about living life freely.”

(X) Here’s the Guide 10. (NRG)

Goal Zero has found a niche providing power to the adventure market, be it hikers or mountain bikers that need juice to power their smartphones, tablets and GoPros.  The Salt Lake City-based company had only $250,000 in revenue in 2009, its first full year of business, but expects to pull in $40 million in revenue this year. It’s grown to 120 employees. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Under NRG’s wing, Goal Zero could leap from its niche into the mass market, where solar appears to be gaining a foothold.

“Goal Zero would grow probably 15 to 20 percent on its own. With the resources of NRG we should be able to really double or triple that each year,” said Goal Zero founder Robert Workman.

Its best-selling device right now is the Guide 10, a portable kit packaged with solar panels that charge AA batteries. Devices such as iPhones and iPads can then be plugged in and charged. The Guide 10 can be affixed to a backpack to charge while one walks.

“We’re going to harvest the sun,” Workman said. “The world is changing. I see a vision in 10 to 20 years where every home is a power station and we are using energy we actually create ourselves. The power grid as we know it today is going to end up being a supplemental power grid.”

Workman’s belief in distributed power is echoed by NRG chief executive David Crane. Both men also appear to make business decisions while maintaining a moral compass.

Before founding Goal Zero, Workman pursued humanitarian work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Crane speaks of the need to embrace renewables because of a responsibility to future generations.

Now they’ll have a chance to see if they can cement solar energy in the mainstream.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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