Small Generators Aren’t As Good As Solar For Emergency Preparedness (Part 3)

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This article is the third part in a three-part series. You can find Part 1 here.

This All Sounds Pretty Scary. I’ll Probably Just Die, Right?

Solar storms, EMP, hackers, sabotage — yeah, those are frightening things. Going for years without power is even more frightening when you think about it. With a long enough outage, you could lose access to indoor plumbing (water and sewer), medical care, internet, phone, and even having food on the shelves at the local store. Generators powering all of this eventually run out of fuel, and if the trucks can’t get fuel (both refineries and gas stations use electricity), nobody is getting anything from stores until supply chains can adjust or recover.

So, yes, electricity is obviously only going to be a small part of any plan your family would need to be prepared for this. Food, water, shelter, and other things all need to be planned for, but those are beyond the scope of this article., the US government’s official disaster preparedness information site, does recommend the following for major disasters:

  • If you are able to, set aside items like soap, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, disinfecting wipes, and general household cleaning supplies that you can use to disinfect surfaces you touch regularly. After a flood, you may not have access to these supplies for days or even weeks. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Don’t forget the needs of pets. Obtain extra batteries and charging devices for phones and other critical equipment.
  • Being prepared allows you to avoid unnecessary excursions and to address minor medical issues at home, alleviating the burden on urgent care centers and hospitals.
  • Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on necessities. For those who can afford it, making essential purchases and slowly building up supplies in advance will allow for longer time periods between shopping trips. This helps to protect those who are unable to procure essentials in advance of the pandemic and must shop more frequently. In addition, consider avoiding WIC-labeled products so that those who rely on these products can access them.

In other words, your starting point is to prepare for 2 to 3 days of needs with a basic kit you can use indoors or take with you in case of evacuation. Then, start preparing for longer times without basic needs a little at a time as your household budget permits. Try to pick canned foods with longer shelf lives and rotate them into your normal household meals to keep things fresh. You can also pick up boxes or buckets of food with even longer shelf life specifically for emergency food storage if you have some extra money.

It’s also fun to get into hobbies that are useful in emergencies, like amateur radio, wilderness survival, and camping, and if it’s legal where you live and you’re not personally opposed to it, firearms. It’s also good to work with people in your community and local officials on these things to make sure everyone is better off in the event of an emergency.

So, no, you don’t have to die if something truly awful happens. Just do what you can here and there to slowly build up preparedness.

Taking Care Of Electrical Needs Without A Gas Generator

Home solar and battery setups have a lot of big fans, and many of those fans will excitedly tell you all about getting solar panels, a Tesla Solar Roof, or Tesla Powerwall. I’ll get to those in a minute, but I think it’s better to start small. Not everyone owns their own home, and not everyone who owns their home can afford to do all of that.

I’d recommend starting with portable power stations, also known as solar generators. These battery banks can charge from any source, including solar panels, car cigarette lighters, or a wall plug in your house. Smaller ones can charge from any USB-C charger, too. For emergencies, you can keep one charged up in your home and ready to go. I don’t personally recommend leaving them plugged in 24/7, though, as a solar flare or an EMP attack could fry them through the grid. Sitting unplugged, they should be safe.

Most of them can be carried with you in case of evacuation, and even the smaller ones can power essential medical devices like a CPAP machine overnight.

Here’s a few I’ve reviewed here at CleanTechnica:

Joyzis BR300 power station
Picture by Jennifer Sensiba.

Joyzis BR-300 Portable Power Station: Good for up to 300 watts, with a 300 watt-hour battery. Normally $279, but there’s a special on them until December 21st where you can get them for as little as $150. Features that set this apart: built-in lantern and wireless charging plate.

Jackery Explorers 300 and 1500. Picture by Jennifer Sensiba.

Jackery Explorer 300: Good for up to 300 watts, 300 watt-hour battery. $299. Features that set this apart: small size, better display than Joyzis, compatibility with other Jackery solar panels.

Jackery Explorer 1000: Up to 1,000 watts of power, 1,000 watt-hour battery. $999. Can power some appliances, like a refrigerator, small heater, small air conditioner, or toaster oven, but it’s bigger and heavier.

Jackery Explorer 1500: This is the biggest one I’ve personally tested and used in an emergency. $1599. CleanTechnica’s Kyle Field did a more in-depth review of the unit here. It can do 1800 watts continuous, but can only do that for about an hour (1500 watt-hour battery). This one can power microwave ovens, space heaters, saws, and many other high-draw devices, or run smaller things for a long time.

With any of these, you’ll need solar panels to charge them up during long outages. The Jackery models work best with Jackery’s solar panels, but there are aftermarket panels that can charge them, too. I personally use a 60-watt folding solar panel with my Jackery Explorer 300 because I wanted both to fit in my backpack with my radio gear.

My recommendation is to pick up a large one for your home or to carry in a car, and a small one to carry in a backpack in case of evacuation.

A photo from the time I used my EV as a power supply for my house. Photo by Jennifer Sensiba.

Another great option is to use an EV as a power supply. After all, an EV has a huge battery, right? I did this in a pinch by tying into my Nissan LEAF’s 12-volt battery with a cheap power inverter. The LEAF is supposed to provide up to 3000 watts this way, but I’ve read that Tesla vehicles can provide up to 2500 watts. Some EVs and hybrids come with their own built-in inverters to give you 120 or 240 volts for a house or jobsite, making them an excellent option, too.

When it comes to home solar and battery storage to power your whole house indefinitely, that’s something you’ll need to work with professionals on. But not all home solar-battery systems are built to withstand something like the Carrington Event or a nuclear EMP disaster. The solar panels and batteries themselves won’t be harmed by such things, but the long wires coming in from the utility company and the wires feeding solar power into the house are points of vulnerability.

Protecting from these threats is possible. Hardened inverters are available, and you can have EMP protection (this would protect from solar flares as well as nuclear attacks) installed on the lines coming in from the utility company. It’s also good to have shielded wiring used to connect solar panels to the inverter and batteries, properly terminated and grounded to direct solar flare or EMP energy away from your home and safely into the ground.

No Doom & Gloom Required

If there’s anything you should take away from this article, it shouldn’t be doom and gloom. Renewable energy gives us hope. Before we had solar power and today’s battery technology, you really were at the mercy of the power company in emergencies unless you had a generator and fuel. With solar power and batteries, you can keep your family safe and comfortable for years. This is something we should be excited and happy about!

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba