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Alternative Energy Systems and Power Consumption

Thursday, 14 February 2013 23:49 Written by 

Most of us understand the importance of alternative energy, and how it relates to preparedness. Even with this understanding, there are three reasons why alternative energy systems get pushed to the back burner; they are expensive, they are confusing, and people do not know how big of a system they need. Before you take a leap into purchasing an alternative energy system, take a breath, and first analyze your power requirements. I separate alternative energy systems into three different categories: small portable, large mobile, and residential. Each category comes with its own pros and cons, and should be matched with your survival plan and budget. Additionally, the things you would like to power, your devices and appliances, should be scaled to match your alternative energy system. Please join us as we cover our concepts of alternative energy systems, their realistic capabilities, and a few power consumption rates. 

Definitions in Layman’s Terms

I prefer to calculate power consumption in Amp Hours. Some measure in watts, but the following article will use the Amp Hour method. 

Amps – An Ampere, or Amp, is a measure of the amount of electric charge passing a point in an electric circuit. If a device or appliance states it is 8 Amps, then it means it could consume approximately 8 Amps of power per hour.

Amp Hours – is a way of describing a battery's capacity; how long it will run before it is drained down. The amp-hour rating for a given battery is the maximum amperage that can be drawn continuously until the battery is completely discharged, flat, empty, drained, dead, over a specific time period (Source: OverlandResource.com).

Direct Current (DC) - Direct current is produced by sources such as batteries and solar cells, wind turbines, and hydroelectric generators. Direct current is also used to charge batteries, and in nearly all electronic systems, as the power supply. Your car battery provides DC power.

Alternating Current (AC) – AC power is what comes out of your home’s electrical outlets. AC cannot charge batteries or run DC devices, unless you use a battery charger or AC to DC converter. Likewise, DC power sources cannot run AC devices unless you use an inverter (DC to AC). So if you plug an electrical device into a wall plug in your home, you will need an inverter to use with your alternative energy system.

The Systems

While by no means book definitions, alternative energy systems can be separated into three categories. Your Bug In and Bug Out scenarios will ultimately decide the size of your alternative energy system, or if you need to have multiple systems. Your budget will dictate the direction of your purchases and how fast you can acquire items. However, redundancies should be included, regardless if you plan to Bug In or Bug Out.

Small Portable – A small portable system could contain a folding solar panel or could represent a setup that can fit inside a standard car; such as the $150 Solar Ammo Can project. These systems are designed to charge small batteries, provide emergency lighting, and power small devices. You can also use a small inverter to power some AC devices. Regardless of which small portable system you purchase, you need to manage your expectations. For example, our $150 Solar Ammo Can project will not run a refrigerator for more than an hour; however it charges AA/AAA batteries and powers emergency LED lights with ease. Small portable systems are for small devices, and for maintaining your vehicle battery.

Large Mobile – Large Mobile systems could range from 100 watts of solar and 100 Amp Hours of battery capacity, to over 1000 watts of solar and 1000 AH of battery capacity.  The limiting factor here is available space and weight restrictions for your vehicle, trailer, or recreational vehicle. The purpose of this system is to provide adequate power for a multitude of tasks. At this level you can also utilize a large inverter to power many different AC devices, to include power tools. However, you will still need to manage expectations, or look at purchasing devices that can be powered from your setup. For instance, my household microwave exceeds the power produced by my mobile system, and will turn off the inverter (I need a larger inverter, or a more energy efficient microwave). Large portable systems are for a wide range of applications, although you need to scale your electronics to your system's capability. Surefire Woodsman's Bug-Out Prototype provides a great example of a Large Mobile System (you can watch the spoiler at the bottom of this article). 

Residential – Residential systems are normally large, and are also very expensive. This type of system can power part, if not all, of your home’s energy requirements. They can also be grid-tied; incorporated into your home’s electrical architecture. However, residential systems cannot be easily moved, and most individuals will need assistance developing and installing the system.

Scenarios

If you plan on Bugging In, then a residential system may suit your needs perfectly. However, it may bring unwanted attention from zombies (your unprepared neighbors), but you will have adequate power during a grid-down situation. Also, if you decide that you need to Bug Out, more than likely you will not be able to move all the system components with you; too heavy, too bulky, and you will need to know how to disassemble your system. If you go the residential system route, you should also invest in a small portable system for emergency use. Additionally, it would be smart to design your system so if you needed to, you could remove a few panels, your charge controller, and a couple batteries and throw them in your vehicle on your way out of town (transition to a large mobile system).

If you plan on Bugging Out, a small portable system can be thrown in a Bug Out Bag (BOB) or vehicle. Realistically, it will only allow you to charge small batteries (AA/AAA) and maintain your vehicle battery. Depending on your system, you could also charge battery packs which are designed to provide AC/DC power to small devices. But, do not expect the system to continually charge your laptop for entertainment purposes. Depending on your system size, a complete charge of your laptop may require several days of solar collection.

In contrast, a large mobile system blends the benefits of the residential and small portable system. Large mobile systems can remain mounted in your vehicle, trailer, or RV, and can be ready to go the second you decide to leave. Or, you can leave it setup in your home, and throw it in your truck when you need to. Due to weight considerations, moving it will require a vehicle which may make you vulnerable if your vehicle breaks down or you need to leave it behind. A benefit of building your own large mobile system is that you can customize it to fit your needs. Additionally, you can take a modular approach to the build, and add more components as your budget allows. If you would like to see an awesome example of mobile large system, watch Surefire Woodsman's Bug-Out Prototype; a DVD which demonstrates a family's approach to Bugging Out. Also, please read our review of the DVD. 

Power Consumption

The following tables contain realistic power consumption information. Amps were measured using a Watt’s Up Meter ($150 Solar Ammo Can Project) and a Blue Sky IPNPRO Remote (Large Mobile Solar Power System). I highly recommend the Watt’s Up Meter, if you would like to evaluate an alternative energy system's DC power input/output. I have also color coded the AH draw for each device, which identifies devices I feel are compatible with small portable and large mobile systems (Green-Good, Orange-Moderate, Red-Avoid).

Note: The following is a list of devices I currently own, and were used for this test. There are other devices out there that could be more compatible with alternative energy systems. Use the following information only as an example; my devices and systems will differ from your own.

Note: Please pay close attention to the AC inverter chart. We often get questions asking how large of a system someone would need to run their microwave, refrigerator, and freezer. 

Note: Test Systems: 1) $150 Solar Ammo Can, with two 10AH batteries. 2) My Large Mobile Solar Power System, with 200 AH of battery capacity, 4 gauge wire, and a 1500W pure sine wave inverter.

Note: Testing resulted in power fluctuation. For instance, when the cooking appliances started, they all surged. The averages were identified after a device was powered for a few minutes.

Note: To see how long you could power a device, take your battery bank AH capacity, and divide by Average (AVG) AH. This will provide the total number of hours your bank could power a device, before it needed to be recharged. Realistically, you should divide  this total in half, so you do not drain your batteries beyond 50% (10AH battery capacity / 1 amp =10 Hours / 2 (50% of battery capacity) = 5 hours).

 

iPhone (12 Volt and AC, $150 Solar Ammo Can)

Watts

AVG AH

iPhone, Using a USB 12 Volt to 5 Volt Converter

2.1 - 2.3

0.19

iPhone, Using a 12 Volt Four Port Socket with USB

2.4-2.8

0.2

iPhone, Using Bestek 150 watt Inverter via USB

5.6-5.7

0.46

     

Cooking (12 Volt DC, $150 Solar Ammo Can)

Watts

AVG AH

12 Volt Portable Sauce Pan

130.2-134.8

11.34

12 Volt Portable Stove

112-120

9.5

12 Volt, Hot Pot (Boils Water)

97.9-98.5

8.32

     

Lighting (12 Volt DC, $150 Solar Ammo Can)

Watts

AVG AH

2.1 Watt LED Light

1.9-2.2

0.17

5 Watt Fiber Optic Light

5.5-5.7

0.45

LED Pancake Light

1.8

0.16

Coleman CPS Duo, Charging Battery

3.2

0.25

     

Battery Charger (12 Volt DC, $150 Solar Ammo Can)

Watts

AVG AH

Battery Charger, Titanium Smart 16 Bay

1.3

0.1

1 AA Battery

1.2-3.5

0.2

4 AA Batteries

4.6-4.5

0.37

8 AA Batteries

8.1

0.67

16 AA Batteries

15.2-15.7

1.28

4 AAA Batteries

2.9-3

0.24

     

Fan (12 Volt DC)

Watts

AVG AH

O2 Cool Fan, Low Setting

4.4-4.5

0.37

O2 Cool Fan, High Setting

6.1

0.5

     

Small Electronics (12 Volt DC, $150 Solar Ammo Can)

Watts

AVG AH

Radio, Midland GXT Two-Way Radio (1)

1.1-1.2

0.09

Radio, Midland GXT Two-Way Radio (2)

1.6-1.7

0.14

Portable DVD Player

2.9-3.4

0.27

     

AC Inverter (1500 Watt, Large Mobile)

Watts

AVG AH

Inverter, Bestek 150 Watt (No Load)

3.3-3.4

0.27

Inverter Powering  15.6 Laptop, Laptop On

37.6-38.6

3.1

Inverter Charging 15.6 Laptop, Laptop Off

26.3-26.5

2.16

Vacuum Sealer, FoodSaver GameSaver

N/A

9.2

     

AC Inverter (1500 Watt, Large Mobile)

Watts

AVG AH

Inverter, GoPower 1500W Pure Sine Wave (No Load, Off)

N/A

0.2

Inverter, GoPower 1500W Pure Sine Wave (No Load, On)

N/A

1

Dehydrator, Excalibur 3900, 9 Tray

N/A

53.4

Toaster, 2 Bay

N/A

80

Toaster, 4 Bay (1500 Watt Inverter Shut Off)

N/A

140+

Craftsman 19.2 Volt Battery Pack Charger

N/A

4.8

Refrigerator/Freezer, Frigidaire 18.2 CUFT

N/A

12

Chest Freezer, Frigidaire (Medium Size)

N/A

9

Fluorescent Work Light, 4 Bulbs

26

2

Fluorescent Work Light, 2 Bulbs

13

1

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 18:11
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