After the Collapse, whatever form that might take, there is a high likelihood that the power grid could fail. What to do with all those gadgets we’ve collected? They’ve become such a huge part of our modern lives! Cell phones, computers, tablets, have found homes in our homes for many Americans, and indeed, many around the world. How would the failure of the grid affect your life?
Like many, I have a cell phone and a tablet. I also have a couple of laptop computers. Most of the time I work on a five year old desktop computer. Why? Well, I like the flexibility of being able to open it up and configure it the way I want. I also have an external hard drive to store documents and photos. If the computer dies, I still have my files. But if the grid is down, neither of these is of any use. That’s why I have the tablet. An external SD card makes it possible for me to store the most important of all these files. Not all, by any means, but most. I can keep pictures of my family and copies of important documents, like birth and marriage certificates.
Even the tablet needs to be recharged though. As does the phone. If the grid is down, the phone will most likely be useless as a phone, but if I can keep it charged, it can still be my alarm clock and kitchen timer. Yes, I cook. Until I get another one of those wind up kitchen timers, my phone is my best friend in the kitchen. So how will I keep my tablet and phone charged if there’s no power at the wall? I bought a solar charger that supports both at the same time.
What about all those other doodads that run on batteries? Are there any you couldn’t live without it when the power quits? I have a dozen or so little battery powered lanterns. They have LED lights and three functions. The click of the switch on top activates the 8 white LEDs surrounding the reflector cone. It’s not a huge amount of light, but it’s not a huge lantern either. Second click turns on the single red LED in the bottom. Third click blinks the red LED. Useful for signaling law enforcement to an urgent need, if you can contact them. It runs on four AAA batteries. I even have a few in the basement.
I also like the Coleman Micropacker. First of all, I trust the Coleman brand, most of the time. I tried one of these during one of our camping trips and loved it! It puts out a considerable amount of light. It has a sliding back panel, converting it from room light to directional. It has a loop on top to either hang it inside a tent or from a carabiner on a belt loop. It runs on 3 AA batteries, which makes charging a bit cumbersome. Most chargers want you to have an even number of batteries installed. For now, I can take the batteries out of the lantern, put them in a GPRS radio and use the radio charging cradle.
Our other Coleman lantern isn’t even available any longer. It’s big, lights up an entire tent and is a little on the heavy side. But, we haven’t had to put new batteries in it since we first lit it up. It uses those gigantic 6 volt square bricks of battery, two of them. Those bricks can be replaced, using an adapter, with four D cell batteries. each. I have the adapter, four spare bricks and 16 D cells.
I’m also a big fan of MagLite flashlights. From the keychain size to the big 6D that my wife likes. Yes, you can get several of them from Walmart, too. I prefer the more costly LED lights because they seriously kick out a LOT of light. My favorite is the:
MagLite MultiFunction Flashlight
It’s a convenient size and has four modes: Full power, 25% power, blink and SOS.
There is also a version, same size, that is just a flashlight.
I have a 2D in my trunk:
MagLite 2 D Cell Flashlight
In order to get a 6D LED, my wife had to get hers at Tractor Supply. It seems a little less sturdy than a MagLite, but she seems content:
Brinkmann 6 D Cell Flashlight
(Oddly, I can’t find it at the Brinkmann web site.)
With all these light sources, I also have a few batteries. I can charge the AA and AAA batteries with the very inexpensive charger from Amazon. I bought two of them because, well, I have a lot of batteries. The biggest drawback to this charger, for me, is that it will charge four AAs but only two AAAs at a time. I’m still exploring more flexible options.
AA and AAA battery charger from Amazon:
Amazon Inexpensive Solar Battery Charger
I also found this charger, intended for cell phones. It did an acceptable job of charging my old TMobile phone.
conceptGREEN Solar Cell Phone Charger
As long as the grid is still functional, I will recharge my AA and AAA batteries in this one. It comes with four AA batteries and displays remaining time to charge for each pair. It does require that at least two batteries are being charged.
Rayovac Battery Charger
As I mentioned, our big lantern can run on D batteries. I have found rechargeable Ds. What I haven’t found is a solar charger that can handle them. Still working on that one, too.
Of course, there’s always the option of not worrying specifically about solar chargers for batteries. I could install a set of outside solar panels, with a charge controller and a few storage batteries, driving an inverter and simply use my A/C battery chargers. Except for the D cells. An advantage to have a solar array is that I could also run some of the other electrics in the house, like the laptops and external hard drives. And the coffee pot. (Now there’s some incentive!) There are two disadvantages, to me, to the solar array. First, cost. At the rate I’m going though, I’ll spend as much on strictly battery chargers as I would in the long run on the array. Plus, I still won’t be able to power the laptops. Second, security. Solar arrays aren’t small. Neither is the housing for the controller/batteries/inverter. If the grid goes down and people are roaming neighborhoods looking for people better off than themselves (yes, I’m trying to put it nicely), a solar array, whether on the roof or in the back yard, is like painting on sign in neon day-glow colors saying, “I have power!” Still, I really like the idea of having a solar system to keep my house running with a semblance of normality. Theoretically, I could keep many of my kitchen appliances functional.
So what is a solar array? As I mentioned earlier, it consists of four parts: Solar panel(s), charge controller, batteries, inverter. It’s beyond the scope of this post to define all the parameters involved in sizing the system. To put it as simply as possible, you have to determine how much electricity you want to use in your home. Add up all the power consumption requirements of all the devices you want to turn on. In my kitchen, for instance, if I turn everything on, I’ll use about 9000 watts. But that’s everything at once. It’s unlikely I’ll ever turn it all on at the same time. However, it never hurts to super-size.
So you get all these solar panels to support the amount of storage capacity you want. Your charge controller regulates the output of the panels into the batteries AND keeps them from reversing the flow when they become fully charged. The controller needs to be sized appropriately as well.
The batteries are a bit perplexing, so far. You don’t worry about cranking amps or cold cranking amps. You want to know the AmpHour rating. Not all distributors nor manufacturers make this information readily available. Best bet? Search for someone online that has done it and find out what they’ve used.
The last component is relatively simple. Inverters turn the DC of the batteries into the AC for your household products. I’ve seen inverters capable of pushing 10,000 watts. Not cheap mind you, but that’s almost a whole house worth! You’ll need quite a stash of batteries to supply that much power, and several panels. There’s only one little question left. There are two kinds of inverters. Modified sine wave versus pure sine wave. Theoretically, pure sine wave is what the utility company sends out of your wall sockets. (It’s really pretty close.) So you might think that you want to get as close to that as possible. That’s really only true for electronic devices, like your laptop, fancy flatscreen tv, stereo, etc. Kitchen appliances generally don’t care too much and would be quite happy with a modified sine wave output.
This is an example of an inexpensive inverter that you plug into your car lighter. 200 watt continuous output, so it can run a couple of small items. It should be enough to run a laptop as well, but I’m not sure I’d run it for long. That whole modified vs. pure question. What I can do with it is plug in an extension cord. Run the extension cord to the tent. Plug in an AC-to-DC (lighter socket) converter. Plug the air pump for the mattress in and easily inflate the air mattress.
PowerLine Car Inverter
Ok, so why does this matter? Because a pure sine wave inverter will cost you significantly more than a modified sine wave inverter. So, explore the power requirements of your high end electronic gizmos and purchase a pure sine wave inverter to support only those devices. Let everything else run on the modified inverter. Whatever you do, keep an eye on the output of the batteries (to the inverters). Don’t let the combined output of the inverters exceed the capacity of the batteries. What would happen? You could end up sitting in the dark earlier than you expect.
Is it worth all the cost and effort? Personally, I think so. I’d love to be able to convert this place. We rent. Not likely I’ll be able to do that. The owners have already told me they don’t have a problem with me putting in a rain gathering system. I don’t think they realize I’ll take it with me when we move. I cannot envision building my solar array and then disassembling it when it comes time to move. That would be a LOT of work.
I might seriously consider gathering all the components, little by little, so I can implement it at the next location.
At the very least, it’s worth investigating and starting small to become familiar.