In Part 1, I covered the reasons that home solar+storage isn’t the answer for all disasters, and got into the importance of covering the basics first. Once you have those basics out of the way, it’s time to start finding ways to keep yourself out of the nineteenth century with at least a little electricity.
Electrifying Your 72-Hour Kit With Portable Clean Energy
Truth be told, there’s no limit to what you can think of to put in an emergency kit, but your back does have a hard limit on what it can carry. So, you have to make sure every family member has at least the basics for themselves (food, water, etc.) and then add appropriate specialty items to each person’s pack. In my family, my pack is specialized for communications gear, two of my kids carry a small tent, and my wife carries extra first aid gear. For my youngest kids, they carry just the essentials because that’s all they can physically handle.
Not everyone is going to go as far as I did with my kit, but I want to show a little of what I have inside mine to show that clean energy is available for useful things on the go.
I started out with a basic hiking backpack from Amazon. It’s bigger than it looks in this picture, but it’s not enormous. You don’t have to be cute and pick a camouflage backpack like I did, but be sure to get one that has a hip/waist strap and a chest strap to help distribute the weight. That way, you can carry more without making it difficult to walk distances with. I went with this backpack (it’s available in multiple colors).
Inside the pack, I have a 60-watt folding solar panel, solar charge controller, a small lithium-ion battery, and communication gear. The panel itself is discontinued, but if you choose to go the folding solar route, be sure to get a charge controller that can be set to charge lithium batteries. Units designed for lead-acid batteries can damage expensive lithium batteries, so definitely don’t cheap out on that.
What I Can Do With This Tiny Bit of Power
With the small panel and battery pack, I have adapters to charge phones, a laptop, and other devices. I also have two amateur radios (aka “ham” radios). Every family member has a cheap handheld short-range radio in case cellular service isn’t available, but my pack also has the gear needed for long-distance communication (regional and global) without any infrastructure, using HF (aka “shortwave”) radio frequencies.
With the radio connected to my low-power laptop computer, I can easily send and receive signals from anywhere in North America, and under good conditions as far away as Japan, New Zealand, and Russia.
This may seem a little extreme, but amateur radio is one of my hobbies, and global communications in a backpack could prove extremely useful if the United States were to take a direct hit from a coronal mass ejection, like the Carrington Event. Such a disaster only has a 2-12% chance of happening every year, but when it does, we’re likely to have power troubles and communication problems for up to two years. Being prepared to help your family and your community with communications is a great idea.
Like I said earlier, few people will want to take their preparations to such extremes, but it’s a good idea to get some basic radios for your family to communicate with. If people in your family don’t want to take the time to get a radio license, I’d recommend a MURS radio like this one. If people in your family want to get an amateur radio license, you can use these for a lot more power and range, as well as the ability to use repeater stations to vastly increase your range.
But, You’ll Need Something More Potent To Run Home Appliances
Once you have a basic 72-hour kit, a couple of little solar panels for your family, and some basic radios, you can then turn your attention to things like a refrigerator, air conditioner, or heat.
You’re not going to fit it in a backpack, but a solar generator like the Jackery 1500 can provide a lot more power than the little 60-watt panel I mentioned above. During a recent power outage, I was able to use it to run a microwave to cook food for the kids, cool the fridge off periodically to keep food from spoiling, and even run a small window A/C unit for a few minutes to help cool the kids’ room off. High-current appliances like that would have run it down in just an hour or two, but it was able to run small fans and LED lights indefinitely.
If you were to get something like the Zero Breeze Mark II air conditioner, which only pulls about 250 watts, the Jackery could run it for up to 6 hours. It wouldn’t cool off your entire home, but it could help cool one room or a tent off and make it a lot easier to sleep at night. Then, the next day, recharge the Jackery with portable solar panels while it runs the little A/C (up to 400 watts can be plugged in).
Owning an EV Gives You Some Even Better Options
If you’d rather run a real window air conditioner, your fridge, and other big appliances all day and all night for a few days, almost any EV can do that. All you need to do is buy a reasonably powerful inverter, attach it to the EV’s 12-volt battery, and then draw the power you need for your appliances through suitable extension cords.
An EV can charge its 12-volt battery from the main lithium pack, but you probably don’t want to exceed the power the EV can supply to the battery. I know my Nissan LEAF can do up to 3000 watts, and most Tesla vehicles can provide up to 2500 watts. For other EVs, you’ll need to do some research to figure out how much power you can safely pull.
2500 watts is enough for one window air conditioner or one electric space heater, your fridge, some home lighting, and maybe a TV and a game system. If you want to run something like a microwave or toaster oven, you’ll need to turn the heater or A/C off while running that. You couldn’t run a central refrigerated A/C or heat pump with an inverter, but you probably could power a gas furnace’s fan or an evaporative (aka “swamp”) cooler to stay warm or cool.
For power outages of a few days, that’s enough to get you by in one room comfortably, but you’ll need to find a way to charge the EV if you need it to help you for longer.
Obviously, solar on your roof and ample battery storage is probably the best thing. Big storms can take those out, and many people aren’t in a position to do that, though. Alternatives, like small panels for low-power devices, larger solar generator systems, and even the battery in an EV, can make the difference between being in the dark and being at least a little more comfortable.
More importantly, we do need to keep preparedness in perspective. Doing things like buying preparedness items when you don’t have savings, or making sure you have electric without some extra food and water on hand won’t help you. Balance is key.
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