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Next-Level Preparedness: Solar Power



After you’ve taken some basic steps to prepare for a natural disaster or any other scenario that may limit life as you know it, you may be ready to level up your game. Past creating bug-out bags and gathering recovery supplies lies the next level of preps designed to increase one’s comfort in the face of disaster. Generally these items are more costly, and admittedly have a 'cool factor' in addition to their usefulness. So today, let’s talk solar.


Recent high winds here in northern Colorado resulted in power outages lasting for many hours. As luck would have it, out-of-town friends paid us an unexpected visit during the storm, and it was fun to demonstrate various preparedness items, including our solar batteries. This post will discuss the portable solar options we’ve tried, and pros/cons per our experience. I'll talk about a couple of brands in particular, and while there are many others on the market, these are just the ones we've used.


We’ve owned an Inergy solar generator setup since 2019 and use it periodically, most notably for camp trips and whenever the power goes out at home. We have the Apex battery model (no longer sold, comparable versions here) plus a flexible, portable and foldable solar panel (no longer sold by Inergy but you can find portable panels from other providers online. Contact Inergy to determine compatibility with their power stations). Inergy does sell solar panels also, but their current offerings appear to be somewhat less portable.


Camp setup with the flexible fabric-backed Inergy solar panels tied securely between our Jeeps. The charging cord from the panels feeds through the upper tent window to the Inergy battery inside the tent.



We also have a smaller solar battery and panel setup from GoalZero (Yeti 500X) that has worked very well, although it stores less charge so doesn’t last as long. Usually our son uses this one, while hub/I use the larger battery (when camping).


The Yeti 500X from GoalZero, wall outlet charging at a rate of 60 watts.



How it Works

Quite simply, these solar generators are rechargeable batteries that can be powered via solar panels or by standard electrical outlet. Once fully charged, these batteries keep their charge for a few months without use, although they do slowly drain over time. I have a calendar reminder set to charge them every 90 days so they are always ready to go when needed.


Solar charging: unfold/secure panels in a sunny location. Plug cord into battery, and wait several hours or up to all day (full direct sunlight will obviously charge the battery much faster). This can be a slow process, yes, but it's free – and it doesn’t get much better than that!



Our first trial in the backyard resulted in dead grass underneath within two hours, so use care when placing the panels!



The Inergy solar panels we use were purchased in 2019 - fabric-backed, flexible, foldable, and packable. Love 'em!



The Inergy Apex solar battery in charging mode attached to the solar panels. The Apex contains a multitude of outlet types to cover a variety of uses, but we mainly use the standard AC and USB outlets.



In direct sunlight at high noon, the Apex solar charges at a rate of 145 watts.



Outlet charging: simply plug in and wait. Charging from empty takes around 10 – 12 hours using a standard home electrical outlet.


The Apex charging from a standard wall outlet at 73 watts.



Uses

It’s important to note that the batteries we have are not for powering large appliances. (We have a large gas-powered generator for those, should we need it). These solar batteries are designed to simply provide those small daily comforts that make a natural disaster or backcountry camp trip more enjoyable. Here’s how we’ve used (or tried) our batteries for power:

- Laptops (during power outages)

- Phones (during power loss at home and when camping)

- Heated blankets (we don’t use these all the time when camping, but at higher altitudes it’s nice to have an option to take away the chill)

- C-PAP machine (hub uses a C-PAP at home and the solar battery allows for use during camp trips as well – ensuring that we all actually get some sleep!)

- Toaster (because who wouldn’t love some toast when the world ends?!)

- Refrigerator (yes, we tried it, but there's not enough juice to power a full-size fridge)



The Inergy Apex at camp, powering a C-PAP machine plus two cell phones at a discharge rate of 20 watts.



Inergy-powered laptops, because why wouldn't you look at Jeep stuff during a power outage?!



The Apex powers two laptops at a discharge rate of 50 watts.



The GoalZero battery will power a heated blanket plus one phone charge overnight, which uses 100% of its stored power by morning. Our Inergy battery is much larger, and we can charge two phones, a heated blanket, plus a C-PAP machine overnight with about 25% of its stored power. When camping, we then plug in the solar panels during the day to recharge the batteries for another night of use. Yes, this is weather-dependent but here in Colorado we average 300 sunny days per year, so the odds are in our favor.


Pros

- After initial purchase, the solar charging option is free.

- Portable – panels are foldable and store in an easy-carry bag; the Inergy battery weighs about 25 pounds which is not super light, but still easy to transport. The GoalZero is smaller/lighter at around 10 pounds.

- Panels can be set up wherever is convenient and grommets/loops make it easy to secure with ratchet straps or bungee cords.

- The batteries offer multiple outlet types – AC, USB, cigarette lighter plug-in, and more.

- Additional charging option via wall outlet electrical input is also convenient.


The Inergy foldable panels fit into a handy carry bag.



The GoalZero Nomad50 solar panels fold to a compact 17"x12"x1" approximate size.



The GoalZero Nomad50 four-panel set is a small-size and portable option.



Cons

- Placement of the solar panels requires some care. For example, we learned that laying the panels flat on the ground in the backyard will kill the grass in just a couple hours. Oops...

- As mentioned, these particular batteries don’t power large appliances. (However, GoalZero does sell small/portable refrigerators that their batteries can power).


General Experience

In our experience, Inergy customer service has been great over the years. For example, at one point the power knob broke off of our large battery, and we contacted Inergy who sent us a replacement knob for free. They were also helpful initially when we had questions on the compatibility of various panel options with the battery we were purchasing. We haven't worked with GoalZero as much, but other preparedness sites give them good reviews.


The Takeaway

Overall, I’m glad we have these solar-powered options, and we’ve used them on average every few months since purchase which has made it a worthwhile investment. Our cost outlay was pre-recent inflation of course, so all the options are more expensive now but, in my opinion, still worth looking into. Feel free to email me with specific questions not addressed here, and hopefully this article has provided you with some food for thought about your next-level preparedness goals!


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by Dawn Gallegos

Dawn Gallegos is the founding editor of the Chicks On The Rocks blog. When she's not working to fund her Jeep habit she's thinking up new ways to inspire others to explore the great outdoors!



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