Part 1 – Sources of Power

We are so dependent on electricity that the lack of it turns our lives upside down. Even a few hours without electricity makes it feel like a visit back to the dark ages. Having a large solar panel array or a series of wind turbines or a combination of both to be off-grid is a great goal. However, the cost puts the off-grid goal out of reach of most of us.

Even if you can’t run all the electrical things you are used to in an emergency, being able to run a few essential electrical items can make a big difference. I’m not talking about basic survival gear like flashlights, radios etc. that are run on AA batteries. I will assume you have purchased AA battery operated gear and have a supply of spare AA batteries and AA Rechargeable Batteries and a battery charger. What I am talking about is 110 Volt electrical power.

110 Volt Electrical Power – The difference between having a basic existence and enjoying a little comfort in life will be your ability to generate power and energy. It doesn’t take much energy to greatly improve your life. Only 6 watts of electricity will run a cell phone charger or an iPod docking station. 24 watts will run an energy-saver light bulb. Another 30 watts of electricity can run a cooling fan or a DVD Player. 60 watts will run a small 12” TV or a Laptop computer. 160 watts will run a 19” TV or a mini refrigerator. 200-400 watts will run a desktop computer. 600 watts will run a full size refrigerator/freezer. 750 watts will run a George Foreman Grill. 900 watts will run a washing machine. 1200 watts will run a microwave or 1/3 horsepower furnace fan.

Reduce Your Energy Usage Now
The key to surviving on emergency power is to reduce your energy usage now so that your emergency power will go further. When you buy new major appliances, buy energy efficient. Buy low wattage small kitchen appliances. Switch to low wattage energy saver light bulbs.

Portable Power
What type of portable power is best for you? It depends on what you want to run, what kind of budget you have, if there is lots of sunshine or wind where you live, if you have the ability to store quantities of gasoline or propane, how long of an emergency you want to prepare for, etc.

I live in a desert and get 255 days of sun each year with an annual average of 8.4 hours per day (low average of 4.8 hours in January and a high average of 10.5 hours in July). Solar power makes a lot of sense for me. I just need to realize the solar output in the winter months will be less than in the summer months and plan accordingly. If I lived in Astoria OR, with only 126 days of sun each year, I would definitely need more than just solar for my backup power.

I have several types of backup power. Here are descriptions:

Wagan Power Dome EX
The Wagan Power Dome EX is a portable and rechargeable emergency power supply. It has jumper cables with 600 cranking amps, a 260 psi air compressor and an AM/FM radio with aux. /iPod input jack. It also has a USB power supply port, a high intensity LED light and a 400 watt inverter with 2 AC 110 volt outputs and 1 DC 12 volt output. It currently sells for $115. I have one in each car if we need to jump start the car or to inflate a tire. If an emergency hit, we can bring them in the house to run essentials. Current price is $105. Here is a link.

Gas Generators
There are a lot of gas generators on the market today. There are some 1000 watt 2-cycle generators (1000 watts peak, 800 watts continuous) that sell for around $100 and some 2000 watt 4-stroke generators (2000 watts peak, 1500 watts continuous) that sell for around $200. The quality varies greatly. Based on my experience, they give you your money’s worth.

A quick note on storing gasoline; your emergency gas generator won’t work unless you have some emergency gasoline. In the case of a 2-cycle generator, you also need some 2-cycle oil to mix with the gasoline. Stored gasoline deteriorates over time. You can purchase a stabilizer to put in it but even then its storage life isn’t much over one year. I just rotate my stored gasoline. I have six 5-gallon containers. I use about 5 gallons of gas in lawn mowers and other equipment around my home each month so my gas storage is rotated every 6 months. 30 gallons of emergency gas will run a 2000 watt generator 4-5 hours a day for a month. If we decide to Bug Out, 30 gallons of gasoline will get one vehicle 700-800 miles away or two vehicles 350-400 miles away.

I have a 2-cycle, 1000 watt generator that I bought for $99 on sale. I have run it twice. It is a little hard to start initially. It stops every hour or so but does start right back up. To be honest, I don’t trust it. I consider it my last resort and would not buy it if I had had a do-over.

I have a 4-cycle 2000 watt generator that I bought for $199. It is much quieter and you don’t have to mix oil with the gas like you do with a 2-cycle generator. It will run 5 hours on 1 gallon of gas. I think the 2000 watt model is a better investment if you go with a gas generator.

There are also higher end generators available from Honda and other manufactures. The Honda EU2000 watt is considered the industry standard. It is quiet and will last a long time. If you search on the internet you can find one for around $900.

Propane Generators
Propane generators are also available. This is my preference. The reason is that propane stores forever and if you already store propane for other things it might make some sense to buy a propane generator. Propane generators are a little more expensive then the same size gas generator. They use about 1½ lbs. of propane each hour. You can buy a conversion kits to convert a gasoline generator to propane. The ultimate generator would be a Honda EU2000 converted to run on propane. You could buy a really nice solar setup for the $1250 that a converted Honda generator would cost.

I bought an ETQ PG30P11 3,500 Watt Propane Powered Generator for just over $400. It runs great and I consider it to be my main backup power source after my solar power system.

Battery Backup System
A battery backup system is the basic guts of a renewal energy system. The two main components are one or more deep cycle rechargeable 12 volt batteries and an inverter. An inverter takes the 12 volt DC power from the batteries and turns it into 110 volt AC power.

Batteries – Make sure your batteries are deep cycle marine type batteries. They are made to discharge the majority of their power slowly and then be recharged. They are made to repeat this cycle many times. Car batteries don’t work well for a battery backup system because they are made to expend a large amount of power quickly (cranking power) but discharge no more than a third of their total power. If they discharge more than a third of their total energy several times, the cells will no longer recharge.
If your battery banks has more than one battery, make sure the batteries are matched (have the same charge/discharge rate and the same Amp Hour (ah) rating. You can connect batteries together in serial or parallel but each way has a drastically different end result.

Serial Connection – To connect two batteries together in series, you connect the positive terminal of battery #1 to the negative terminal of battery #2. You would then use the unconnected terminals (negative terminal of battery #1 and the positive terminal of battery #2) to connect to the output device (the inverter). Connecting batteries in this manner adds the voltage output but does not change the amp hour capacity. If you connected two 6-volts golf cart batteries that each has a 50 ah capacity in this way, you end up with 12 volts output with a 50 ah capacity. If you connected two 12 volt batteries in series, you would end with 24 volts of output.

Parallel Connection – To connect two batteries together in parallel, you connect the positive terminal of battery #1 and #2 together and connect the negative terminal of battery #1 and #2 together. You would then use the negative terminal of battery #1 and the positive terminal of battery #2 to connect to the output device (the inverter). Connecting batteries in this manner keeps the voltage output the same but increases the amp hour capacity. If you connected two 12 volt marine batteries that each had 50 ah capacity in this way, you would end up with 12 volts output with a 100 ah capacity.

Inverters – There are two types of Inverters. Pure Sine and Modified Sine. Pure sine inverters produce electrical power that duplicates the regular AC power that comes out of our home. The advantage of pure sign inverters are that they act like the electricity we are used to using. The disadvantage is that pure sine inverters are more expensive.

Modifies sine inverters produce electrical power that is similar to the regular AC power that comes out of our home but not quite. The difference is noticed when using appliances and power tools that need a large amount of electrical surge to start up. These types of tools or appliances may not work at all with a modified sine inverter even if the appliance wattage is within the limits of the inverter. These types of tools include power drills, circular saws and reciprocal saws. Appliances that are affected include microwave ovens, furnace fan motors and appliances with a compressor like a refrigerator. The advantage is that modified sine converters are less expensive.

How Big Of An Inverter Do I Need? – It depends what you want to run on it. What is the largest wattage appliance that you want to run? What is the total wattage of the appliances that will be running at the same time? Let’s say you want to run a furnace fan motor that is 1800 watts peak to start and then 1200 watts continuous draw. You’d want a pure sine inverter with a 2000 watt continuous, 3000 watt peak capacity.

What if you wanted to run a 6 watt cell phone charger, three 24 watt lights, a 60 watt fan, a 60 watt laptop, a 160 watt 19” TV, a 30 watt DVD player, a 600 watt refrigerator and a 750 watt George Foreman Grill, all at the same time? You could probably get by with a modified sine inverter with a 2000 watt continuous, 3000 watt peak capacity. If you only operated the Foreman Grill when the refrigerator was not running, you could probably go with a 1200 watt continuous, 1800 watt peak capacity inverter.

Smart Battery Charger – For now we’ll recharge our system with a smart battery charger. Don’t use a cheap battery charger to save a few dollars. The wrong charger can ruin your batteries so that they won’t hold a charge. A smart battery charger analyses your battery and applies the correct charge. It will keep the batteries fully charged without overcharging

My favorite chargers are:

#1 – The Battery Tender 021-0128 Battery Tender Plus 12V Battery Charger. Currently sells for around $43. Solid state, two color LED indicates stage of charger; a quick connect harness for use in hard to reach areas. Perfect for all lead-acid, flooded or sealed maintenance free batteries (AGM and gel cell). Complete 4-step charging program (initialization, bulk charge, absorption mode and float mode) that maintains batteries at full charge without overcharging via its 4-step charging system. Automatically switches to float/maintenance mode voltage after fully charging the battery
Temperature compensated to ensure optimum charge voltage according to ambient temperature, and spark proof and reverse polarity protected; 10-year limited warranty

Here is a link:

#2 – the Battery Tender 021-0123 Battery Tender Junior 12V Battery Charger. Currently sells for around $24. Spark proof during lead connection, reverse polarity protected and includes a 12-foot output cord and 5-year warranty. Complete 4-step charging program (Initialization, Bulk Charge, Float Mode) allows for optimization of battery power, without overcharging. Automatic charge cycle functionality switches to float mode after fully charging the battery. Solid state two color LED indicates stage of charger. Currently $24

Upgrade to Solar or Wind Power – Complete the system by adding Solar panels or a wind turbine, along with a charge controller. Solar panels or a wind turbine can be used to recharge the battery bank instead of the battery tender and provide a renewable source of power for your home.

Solar Power

Harbor Freight has 45 watt Solar Panel Kit – It comes with three 15 watt solar panels, a frame to mount the solar panels, a charge controller and 2 12 volt lights. I bought mine on sale for $149 on sale. The charge controller has a USB outlet, cigarette lighter outlet as well as 3 volt, 6 volt, 9 volt and 12 volt outlets. Just by itself you can use it to charge many devices. This could be used to charge one 100 – 125 amp hour batteries depending on the sun.


Ed Rogers

Copyright “Keep It Simple” 2012.  All Rights Reserved.

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