Reliable Energy Options for Emergencies
In the event of an emergency or natural disaster, power is usually the first to go. Having a backup off-grid power supply can be a real lifesaver. There are many
options to consider when choosing an off-grid power supply, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on products that integrate well with ready-made solar panels. We will look at things to consider when purchasing these products, and the background knowledge we need to make an educated decision. These systems will be portable in nature, thus providing us with power for a variety of off-grid applications.
Understanding the basics is important when looking at solar power solutions. In very simple terms, the solar panel is responsible for turning sunlight energy into usable electrical energy. All the converted energy must be stored somewhere, which means we need batteries. Finally, batteries are only good for providing DC power, so if we need to power AC appliances, we need another device to convert DC to AC. This device is called an inverter.
The products in this article that feature an inverter will invert to 110V-120VAC 60Hz sine wave, which is the standard AC output found in North America. When thinking about powering home AC appliances in an emergency, it is not practical to attempt to power every single device at the same time as you normally would. All inverters are limited in that the power output of AC appliances must have a breaker, and thus the number of devices you wish to power simultaneously is limited by the Amp draw and the max wattage. For example, if the inverter outputs 6A, you can’t connect 4 devices drawing 2A each (4*2A = 8A.) Also, let’s say you have a 750W space heater, then the output of the inverter must be at least greater than 750W continuous.
If you want a more detailed run down on solar power basics, check out my article on portable solar power. For portable applications like phone chargers or boat battery charging, there is no need for an inverter. For powering a home, cabin, RV or trailer, we will need an inverter. There are many products that do all this straight out of the box with minimal set up. Anyone can have affordable solar power for off-grid applications.
Low Cost Lighting
In an emergency, having light for your home/cabin/RV allows you to be productive because let’s face it, candles and emergency flashlights don’t usually provide nearly enough light like your regular lighting system does. The BIOLITE Solar Home 620 Kit comes with everything you need at an affordable price. This kit provides you with the solar panel, control box, 3 light switches, and 2 hanging lights. There’s virtually no assembly other than plugging everything together, hanging your lights, and placing the solar panel. The control box doubles as a radio/mp3 player, and a USB charger. The charging time is impressive at just 6 hours to provide up to 14 hours of output. This device is great for both emergency situations and for off-grid lighting like in a cabin, RV, or trailer.
Figure 1: BIOLITE Solar Home 620
Small Scale Backup Power
When you require emergency power for small applications like powering a few essential devices, consider purchasing a small scale solar power station like the Goal Zero Yeti 400 + Boulder 50 Solar Panel Kit. This product will get you up and running with solar power with little to no assembly. It comes with a 50W portable solar panel, and a power station capable of 300W continuous ,110V, 60Hz AC power. This is great for usage during short term power outages, or as auxiliary power for camping. The power station comes with a variety of output ports such as 2 USB, 2 AC outlets, and a 12V output. The power pole port allows you to daisy chain together more solar panels up to 400W if the provided 50W panel does not suit your needs. Current full charging time is between 16 and 32 hours depending on available sunlight, and panel positioning. This is fine if you’re not completely using the battery in a single day. If you are, consider purchasing a Boulder 200W as the total 250W of solar charging power should fully charge the Yeti 400 in 4-8 hours. If you intend to power smaller devices less than 300W, then the Yeti 400 is an excellent cost-effective choice for backup power in an emergency.
Figure 2: Yeti 400 + Boulder 50 Solar Panel
The last tier of emergency solar power is where you will find products with high power output capable of running multiple AC appliances commonly found at home. From an emergency survival standpoint, these devices can power a space heater with 1500W continuous AC power. With a much larger battery and power output capability compared to the Yeti400, the Yeti 3000 comes with the Boulder 200W portable solar panel. The main draw with solar powered backup stations is that they are lightweight, silent, exhaustless, and cheaper down the line when compared to gas/diesel generators.
Like the Yeti 400, you can daisy chain multiple solar panels to cut down on charge time. For example, a single Boulder 200W can charge the Yeti 3000 in 30-60 hours and run a fridge for up to 50 hours. By daisy chaining 6 Boulder 200s, you can cut charging time down to 3-6 hours. In addition to solar panel expansion, the Yeti 3000 is compatible with battery expansion. This allows you to run a 4 circuit 3kWh home for 1-2 days when combined with the Home Energy Storage Kit. When combined with an optimal number of solar panels, and battery expansion packs, the YETI 3000 becomes a fully-fledged off-grid power supply ready for most disaster and home survival situations.
The full set of ports available on YETI 3000 includes:
USB A (5V, 2.4A)
USB C (5V, 3.0A)
USB PD (5V,12V,20V, 3.0 A)
6mm output port (12V, 120W max)
12V car port (120W max)
12V Power Pole output port (240W max)
2x 120V AC 3000W surge
8mm charging port (120W max)
Power Pole charging port (360W max)
Expansion Module port
Figure 3: Yeti 3000 + Boulder 200 Solar Panel
Being prepared and having emergency backup power is easier than ever with the plug and use capability of the Goal Zero Yeti. In addition to its portability, the Yeti product line makes expansion a simple matter of connecting some wires together, giving you the ability to power your home or cabin/RV based on your specific needs.
Written by John Sader
From camping shoreside as a toddler while his father fished well into the night, to portaging through the backwoods of Ontario, John is an outdoorsman in every sense of the word. A natural Jack-of-all- trades, he is always outdoors doing anything and everything. John enjoys spending his weekends fishing, from a boat or through the ice, hunting for Turkeys and mushrooms in the spring, wing shooting in the fall and chasing deer until the last day of the season. He one day hopes to have his own homestead where he can enjoy the outdoors to it’s full potential. Follow along on his journey on Instagram @set_hook.