The "NON" Survivalist

The NON-Survivalist

You don’t have to be a survivalist to have a basic backup system in place for brief disruptions of power. A simple backup plan can keep your family occupied until life returns to normal, and you don’t have to buy a $10,000 generator to accomplish this.    

A “survivalist” can be anyone from fearing zombies attacking and eating people alive or hundreds huddled inside homemade bomb shelters waiting for the end of the world; then there is me, educationalist wishing nothing will ever happen but plan the “just in case”. I enjoy the history of our ancestors who survived in a tribal community, living off the land dependent on NO ONE.

To power a typical American household has changed tremendously in the past 10 years. I would not write this post in the early 1990’s because household appliances used a tremendous amount of current back then to run.  The old tube TV’s used high voltage, so did radios, cassette players, VCR’s, DVDs. Cable boxes, lights, computers, etc. Every device was an independent component that needed its own power supply. Today we have the SMART PHONE/TABLET! These devices can surf the internet, display TV programs, play movies, play music, a radio, news reports, texting, voice calling, emailing, sever as a flashlight, a clock, a timer, a calendar, play video games, take photos, a video camera, a voice recorder, shows local or national radar, storm warnings, weather forecaster, a calculator, a photo album, and on and on; a fraction of the power. A smart phone can do just about everything except run your air conditioner.  If we want heating and air, hot showers, and refrigerator/freezers, then go buy the $5 to $10,000 propane powered generator with yearly maintenance costs and a very limited supply of gas. But for most of us, there is a simple inexpensive solution.

Most Americans do not realize that our local civil emergency agencies requires all communication broadcasts towers have extended backup emergency power. This includes cell/communication towers, radio and TV towers. The whole city and county can be without power and in the black yet the communication grid will be functioning like normal. This is great news if your cable/DSL modem and wifi router were running or your cell phones and tablets had full charges for G5 data. But, you are stuck in the dark burning candles while your kids drive you crazy by wanting something to do. For most short term power disruptions, like for only a few hours, no big deal, just burn candles and most devices will have a charge on them to last the duration. But, if the disruption is in days or weeks, like in an ice storm, a tornado, a hurricane, or a power sub-station malfunction, whatever it is, what do you do then? Running a large car engine to charge small electric devices will waste the gas you will need for transportation.  You don’t have to live without any power if you had a plan. All you need is one 100 watt solar panel, an inexpensive charge controller, and a cheap DC/DC converter. What? I need a battery? We already have batteries in our cars. Even if we own one of those new hybrid electric cars, we most likely will still have the typical car battery under the hood in most all vehicles today.

On the internet and Ebay there are hundreds of solar panel kits that can power just our cell phones for about $30 bucks or kits that power 120 volt household appliance for over $1,000 bucks, but VARY low powered devices and if the batteries are not used, they will fail in time. But why pay a “middleman”! I know, it is easier to just buy the kit already set up to where we don’t have to think, but understanding what is going on in a time of crises is beneficial to our situation than relying on a customer service phone call while in the dark because even the “emergency backup” needs a emergency backup.

My Recommendations: (See Figure 1)

(1) We need power and the best, safest source is the sun. A 100 watt panel is all you need, (think one 100 watt light bulb). We can buy one used or new, but it is the heart of the system. They run from $50 to little over $100 dollars. Buy a pack of at least 18 gauge Alligator Clips Test Leads for about $7 dollars. Note: Even on cloudy days, a 100 watt large surface area solar panel will still produce voltage.

(2) A charge controller. This device will help push the power from the panel to a battery and “control” the voltage to protect your battery from over charging or too much of a load drain. These are dirt cheap. They can run from $18 dollars to over $50+. Since we are only using one solar panel, the cheap controller is all we need. We will only use it in times of power outages so no need factor in a “duty life.”

(3) A “Cigarette Lighter” adapter DC to DC converter.  With these small, inexpensive devices we can set a voltage to match our device, like a wifi router. This also comes complete with outlet plugs to match any device. They run about $15 dollars. Most of us already have those small automotive USB “Cigarette Lighter” plug-in that has its own voltage regulator.

(4) Go to any automotive shop and buy a inexpensive car adapter “Cigarette Lighter” female plug-ins. I don’t  know, around $5? See illustration, Figure 1.

Ok, all together we only spent at the low end $87 bucks! Depending on how many devices you want to add to the “Cigarette Lighter” adapters. Again, we don’t need batteries because we will use our automotive batteries. We can buy heavy duty deep cycle lead acid batteries, but if we don’t store them correctly , they will sulfate in two to four years and you have just wasted about $200. Everything above can store for YEARS without the battery!

Figure 1


The Configurations:

Config. (1) Adding Lighting

With the same 100 watt charging system above, we can add household lighting. For a power outage for a couple of hours at night, candles are fun and romantic, yet it will get old if power is off any longer than that. The smoke, heat, and the danger of fire. I like bright clean lighting. The system above only supports a 12 to 1 volt devices. For lighting, we will need to purchase a 12  volt DC, low watt light bulb. The bulb looks like one of the new 120 volt LED light bulbs we see in stores, yet these run ONLY on DC current. They are hard to find on the internet and they are not cheap. See Figure (2). Do NOT plug them into a live wall outlet. They have the same screw base as a standard bulb and will fit any lamp. The best way to use these through a house is by way of extension cords and alligator clip wire leads attached to lamp plug in cords straight to the battery. Most of us have multiple extension cords in the garage.

Figure  2


Config. (2) Using Inverters for 120  volt power.

There is always the option of using a power inverter. Some are small and supply 120 volts of electricity to your appliances yet they waste a tremendous amount of power taking from your one battery. See Figure (3). 20 years ago I would have said yes, we will need one. But today I say, why? We can buy car (12 volt) adapters for our laptops (that have DVD and CD players in them). Want to power your HDTV, your tower computer? Why? You have your smart phone/Tablet. With one battery, a HDTV will not run for long, maybe 20 minutes if that, (and that is with the solar panel in full sun + battery). A smart phone playing movies will run all day.  Want to use your microwave oven, forget it! Like with heating and air and a hot shower, you will need a $10,000 dollar generator system to power high amp appliances for any good length of time. I would only want an small 400 watt power inverter to “temporarily” copy files from a desktop computer to my phone; for example. If we had no 12  volt LED bulbs, we may need to light up a room with a standard 120 volt light. Say our laptops had no 12  volt adapters, we can use the inverter to charge the battery. Again, it is better to have 12  volt connections and DC converters for all of our devices, power will not be a problem.

Figure 3


The Assembly:


Simply connect the solar panel leads to the charge controller. Hard to miss, it looks like a solar panel. See Figure (4) A. Watch for the polarity, you know (+) and (-), that simple. Then hook up the battery to the charge controller. See Figure (4) B. Removing a car battery may be a challenge, but this is done by most vehicle owners who have dead batteries, even the auto parts stores remove them for free.

Figure 4

Complete setup: See Figure (5).

Figure 5

Now we can add our Smart Phones, Tablets, Laptops, to the system to charge.  See Figure (6).


Figure 6


Example setup for Configuration (1), adding LED lighting. See Figure (7). We can connect power to the LED directly from the battery or from the charge controller. If we use the battery, we must watch that the battery voltage does not fall below 10  volts if it is an standard automobile battery. A deep cycle battery can handle lower voltages. If we wire the LED from the charge controller, the light will automatically switch off if battery voltage is below 10.5  volts.

Figure 7


If we want to use an inverter, configuration (2), Figure (8), we can run a 120v household incandescent light bulb or any low powered 120  volt device.

Figure 8


Keep It Simple:

If we have more than one car, use one battery for emergency power so we can jump start the other car if needed. If we had three cars, two batteries can be used and solar charged so we can use them in separate rooms throughout the house. If we only had one car, I would recommend purchasing a auto jump starter. See Figure (9).  Keep in mind that lead acid batteries have acid in them so keep them on rubber mats. Also, depending on the battery, charging lead acid batteries release hydrogen gases, so charge in well ventilated areas.

Figure 9

Solar panels and charge controllers, if used only for emergencies, will last years. Example, some solar panels are rated to deliver power for over 30 years in full sun. If not used consistently, triple that number of years. Same for charge controllers. I would advise to testing the system every 5 years. So a onetime inexpensive purchase of about $87+ can last a lifetime. BUT, if you add batteries, (other than your auto battery), to an emergency backup, the cost to replace them will be re-occurring every 4 or more years; and they are not cheap!

Oh, you will need stored water and dry goods too. Figured we knew that already.

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