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#252750 - 11/03/12 03:23 AM Alternate Power Concepts
Teslinhiker Offline

Registered: 12/14/09
Posts: 1383
I have been meaning to post this for awhile, however with the current events on the east coast, I thought it was a timely idea to post this now.

The below is an ongoing experiment to find a easily usable and fairly portable alternate power source that can help maintain the basic needs of charging various gadgets and also provide some very basic household lighting if and when the power is out for an extended time such as we are seeing in NY and NJ.

The one and major drawback of this concept is that it currently depends on solar power only. This okay in the summer but right now it is not as we have had nothing but rain and clouds for days. A small generator has been thought of but without any major power outages in the 3 years that we have lived in our current home, it does not make any financial sense. The alternatives is to charge the batteries from the truck but this now leads to possibly keeping more fuel on hand. That said, with testing so far, the power consumption for basic charging has been quite good with the main consumption being the 12 volt RV lights mentioned further below.

The overall cost for thus far has been reasonable and although as mentioned, it is an ongoing experiment, I am confident though that if we were to have a power outage for any reasonable length of time, we would be better off then most people. Future plans include a possible second battery/booster pack or another deep cycle battery which is probably the better way to go.

Just one thing to keep in mind, the picture below is just a representation and I would would not have that much plugged in at once and consuming power with this current setup. That voltmeter was very steadily dropping numbers as I arranged and took a few pictures.

Back row, left to right.
12 Volt RV light. Very inexpensive (around $8.00). We have 4 of these lights with about 6 feet of wire length and a 12 volt plug on the end. I should really order some LED light replacements from Ebay as the LED's really sip the power as compared to the incandescent style bulbs.

750 watt inverter (IIRC, $40.00 on sale.) Not used much as the fan is quite loud when the inverter is under any load. Can run some smaller tools like a 3/8" drill and a small jig saw etc. Although you cannot see, this inverter has alligator clamps which can connect to any 12 volt battery. Has 2x 120V outlets.

300 Watt inverter. Can power a small table lamp, can charge phones, computers, batteries. Very good all around sized inverter and it is much quieter. These often come on sale for less then $30.00 and we also keep another one in the truck at all times.

700 amp battery / booster pack. Nice little system for the price ($75.00 on sale.) Can be re-charged by 120V or 12 Volt. Has 2x 12 volt plugins, and 1 USB plugin. The voltmeter on top is not part of this system and was added by me. Small Velcro patch keeps it in place.

Middle Row, left to right:
Solar panel charge regulator which is used with the solar panels below. There is actually 2 sets of these panels but only one set shown below.

12 volt and USB (x2 ports) power adapter. Has 12 volt plugin connector or can hard wired into a vehicle.

Small travelers power strip.

AA/AAA battery charger. Only works on 120V.

Old phone for emergency backup, pay as you go calls only.

Front Row, left to right:
Samsung Galaxy phone. We have 2 of these same phones and as I mentioned in another earlier post today, I ordered from Ebay, 2 spare batteries and a separate charger for them.

AA/AAA battery charger. Runs from 120V or 12 volt.

iPad...self explanatory

Not shown:
1 more RV light plugged in providing some photo lighting off to the left side.

Group 31 deep cycle battery underneath the table. This is a fairly new purchase as the old Group 34 battery went south very prematurely...don't ask.

A few 12 volt LED singular lights used as experimental/testing over the last couple of years.

3-4 long strings of LED 120V patio lights.(Think Christmas style) but these lights work great with inverter and certainly cheaper (and more reliable) then 12 volt LED string lights which I recently wasted $20.00 or so dollars on...
These light strings are power misers even with the slight inefficiencies of 12 volt to 120V conversion through the inverter. With some some imagination, these lights can be strung up almost anywhere in the house and plugged into the battery pack.

Solar panels, have another set of these also.

Thoughts, questions, criticisms?
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

John Lubbock

#252751 - 11/03/12 03:33 AM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: Teslinhiker]
Greg_Sackett Offline

Registered: 12/14/01
Posts: 225
Loc: KC, MO
I like it! Definitely go with the LED conversions for the RV lights. I am switching all my RV lights to the LEDs. The difference in the power drawn is pretty impressive.

Have you considered a hand crank or bicycle driven generator? You could build your own, or find one of the older military versions at surplus. That would supplement your recharging on cloudy days and not require fuel (other than food).


#252767 - 11/03/12 12:04 PM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: Teslinhiker]
jshannon Offline

Registered: 02/02/03
Posts: 585
Loc: North Texas
no picture seen.

#252794 - 11/03/12 09:44 PM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: Teslinhiker]
dougwalkabout Offline
Crazy Canuck
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/03/07
Posts: 2731
Loc: Alberta, Canada
[The pictures come up just fine in my browser.]

Nice setup. Random thoughts:

I assume you also have a bunch of portable LED lights that aren't in the photo?

The solar panels will still generate power in cloudy conditions, though at a reduced rate. I often do charging tasks during the day -- the battery just acts as a voltage regulator for the panels and hardly discharges at all.

The solar panels can of course keep the vehicle battery topped off too. Nice to have a backup that doesn't use gas.

The danger with using DC directly from a powerpack or vehicle battery is that there's no protection against discharging the battery too deeply. A car-type inverter, though, will shut down somewhere around 11 volts to protect against battery damage. That's pushing it though; I would never run a standard battery that low. Also, good inverters will stay shut down and alarm; but cheaper ones will cycle off and back on because the voltage rises once the load is removed. A cheap inverter once destroyed a battery in one of my powerpacks by doing that.

In a cold climate, the one big drawback to power packs that use sealed lead-acid "gel cells" is that they must not be charged while frozen. This will ruin the battery. My fleet of powerpacks (most of them scrounged yet functional) comes into the basement in winter.

BTW, where did you get that voltmeter? Neat looking item.

Edited by dougwalkabout (11/03/12 09:50 PM)

#252796 - 11/03/12 09:50 PM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: Teslinhiker]
bacpacjac Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 05/05/07
Posts: 3600
Loc: Ontario, Canada
I like that Elimintor. My old boss had one and I used it to charge my car battery a few times. Worked like a charm. I'm thinking of getting one as a back-up power supply at home. We're not allowed to use generarors and this seems like a good compromise.

How do like yours? How long will it hold a charge?
Mom & Adventurer

You can find me on YouTube here:

#252799 - 11/03/12 10:05 PM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: Teslinhiker]
dougwalkabout Offline
Crazy Canuck
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/03/07
Posts: 2731
Loc: Alberta, Canada
@Izzy: pretty sure it's a rebranded Xantrex. A big hardware chain up here (Canadian Tire) puts their own house brand label (Motomaster) on them. It's worth checking the reviews for different power packs on places like Amazon -- there are a few junkers to watch out for.

Edited by dougwalkabout (11/03/12 10:11 PM)

#252804 - 11/03/12 10:35 PM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: Teslinhiker]
spuds Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 06/24/12
Posts: 822
Loc: SoCal Mtns
No critisisms at all,nice small setup! I LOVE small solar,and as Tes points out,anybody can do this,its not difficult to set up and net has a 1001 sources with pictures to walk you thru,dont need to be an electrician.

But I do like having a small generator in addition.Just a 2000 watt (1600 continous),with extension cords can rotate appliances and keep refer and freezer cold.

And during the run times so you dont try to run 24/7,charge the batteries for night use.

This sounds silly but I had neighbors whose food rotted in refer and freezers,and snow was on the ground,just move it outside,some folks never thought of that.

#252805 - 11/03/12 10:41 PM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: Teslinhiker]
Blast Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 07/15/02
Posts: 3561
Loc: Spring, Texas
700amp battery? SWEEEET!!!!
-Blast, jealous.
Blogging the Borderlands
Wild Edibles Blog
I miss OBG.

#252808 - 11/03/12 10:46 PM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: dougwalkabout]
Teslinhiker Offline

Registered: 12/14/09
Posts: 1383
Yes I have some portable lights. As mentioned, a few strings of patio lights that were on closeout for $13.00 in late summer These light strings are about 23' and with a collective 70 bulbs, really throw off a lot of light for their size.

I also have 6 of these lights. They were on closeout at Superstore in early summer for a few dollars each. Being LED and with 4 AA Eneloop batteries installed, they will run about 15 hours straight before the batteries are dead. What I like about these lights is they have a slot in the back which allows them to be hung on a nail or picture frame hook on a wall.

You are correct about the danger of DC discharging the battery to low even though the inverter will shutdown on low battery conditions. I don't fully trust it though which is why I added the voltmeter as a quick visual reference. BTW, the voltmeter came from Ebay and cost $8.00 IIRC.

The power pack was purchased at Canadian Tire which is a national auto parts / sporting goods / home improvement type of store. I know they are not in the USA however I am sure that there are other brands available down there. Stanley tools makes a couple of which they sell up here as both Stanley branded and also as the Canadian Tire Eliminator brand. As for this particular model, I am not sure who makes it but Doug is probably right.

I purchased this Eliminator power pack earlier this year on the advice of a friend and so far, so good. The key to any battery is not to run it down to low as this will quickly destroy any battery's life. As for how long it will hold a charge, that is very subjective as it really depends on how much use it gets, the amount it has to charge any devices, if you are using an inverter with it etc. In the summer, we took it on a week long car camping/hiking trip and used it quite a bit every day just to get a feel for it's capabilities. Between charging cell phones, GPS, AA batteries, camera, running the 300 watt inverter at night with the above LED light strings over the campsite, I only had to charge it once with the solar panels which took about 6 hours of charging in very clear weather and direct sunlight.

It also has it's own built-in 120 and 1 volt charger but they are both slow. What I found works better is to connect a regular 120V battery charger to the jumper cables and charge it this way.

For occasional light use, it works great. We really like it's portability and the on-board 12 volt and USB outlets as compared to lugging around the deep cycle battery that has nothing built-in. This particular model comes on sale quite often as it was just last week or the week before. The sale price on it is usually around $75.00.
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

John Lubbock

#252812 - 11/03/12 11:14 PM Re: Alternate Power Concepts [Re: spuds]
Teslinhiker Offline

Registered: 12/14/09
Posts: 1383
Originally Posted By: spuds
No critisisms at all,nice small setup! I LOVE small solar,and as Tes points out,anybody can do this,its not difficult to set up and net has a 1001 sources with pictures to walk you thru,dont need to be an electrician.

Yes it easy to setup, however what you don't see in the picture is the deep cycle battery and mess of wires and connectors underneath. Next project is to create a small panel that will have easy connect points for all the wires. I am also thinking off mounting this power pack, deep cycle battery, inverters and panel on a small hand truck I have. This will make it truly portable and can be taken anywhere at a moments notice.
Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

John Lubbock

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