Storing Harvested Solar Power (Part #1)

storing solar powerSolar Power Sucks!

OK, I bet that got your attention. And you are probably trying to figure out why me, of all people, would make such a statement. I have reviewed a number of solar products and integrated them into my various radio and other preparedness projects over the last 18 months. So why all the sudden change of heart?

Nah, no change of heart. I still love solar power; plenty more reviews and ideas coming in the future. But, for this article I should have named it, “Not Storing Solar Power Sucks!”

Here is the set-up…

You want to have the ability to recharge devices such as Baofeng radio batteries. You are out in the field, you have a portable solar panel set-up such as the Aukey or Eco-Worthy. But you also need the battery in the radio so you can keep using the radio for operational purposes. No problem!

The key to this is still using the portable solar panel set-up gathering in the sun’s energy (i.e. solar harvesting) and storing the generated power until such time that you can charge the battery. For instance…you have to stay on the move all day using the radio. But, you can still have the solar panel strapped to your pack or maybe left back in camp laid out in the sun. Great! That gives you options but only if you can store the power from the energy producing daylight hours until time is available for you to charge your radio’s battery.

The answer is really pretty simple…a storage battery. A place to store all that generated power until you can put it to proper use.

Now, do not allow your mind to paint some picture of a huge vehicle battery that weighs 40 pounds or something along those lines. That would simply be impractical in the field in a situation that I described. But, a smaller, lighter, easy to store and pack option is a great alternative answer. And please, don’t get caught up in the catch-phrase of the day…”solar generator.” That is a fancy term for a solar panel and battery (maybe an inverter attached as well) and normally marketed for way more than its worth. What I am talking about is simple…store power till you need it.

I wrote a bunch of reviews on different portable solar panel units. You can read about them here < click here to read the series of articles on portable solar panel units >

OK, now you have some options and alternatives on lightweight, reliable, portable power generating solar panels. Let’s get back to storing that energy until it is needed.

Obviously the most simple option that comes to mind, or should come to mind, is to store the power in the battery that you are going to eventfully use. That way there is no transferring from one energy storage container to another. Besides, during the transfer you would undoubtedly lose some of that precious power. Remember, I am no highly educated electrical engineer or anything even remotely related. I am just an emergency preparedness guy trying to find gear and systems that work for you and me in the field. And that can be a challenge at times…getting theory into the field to validate that it actually works. Let’s just say I have been pleasantly surprised.

Remember my Seven Preparedness Risk Priorities? If not, a quick review…

  • Violence
  • Sickness/Injury
  • Lack of, or Poor, Communication
  • Lack of, or Poor, Organization
  • Dehydration
  • Hyper/Hypothermia (shelter)
  • Starvation

Failure to properly mitigate these threats/risks in the proper order will result in failure. And failure will not be pleasant, usually fatal or near-fatal results.

Why in that particular order? The order is based on the “fatality factor.” What can kill you, or your family, the quickest.

You mitigate those threats/risks by having the ability to:

  • Defend yourself, family and community.
  • Provide medical care.
  • Use non-standard communications.
  • Use ICS (Incident Command System)
  • Produce, filter and purify water.
  • Provide basic shelter.
  • Provide initial food supply and grow more.

Staying strictly within my priority system I would have to then place my “stored power” priorities this way –

  1. Batteries for weapons’ optics.
  2. Batteries for tactical flashlights.
  3. Batteries for headlamps for use during first aid administration.
  4. Batteries for radios.

Let me address those issues…

The batteries for my weapon’s optics are not rechargeable. The Aimpoint Micro T1 that I love so much takes the CR32 batteries. They last two years if left the optic turned on. I have a supply of five for each optic. I replace that supply every three years. The shelf life of the batteries is ten years. That ensures that I have a minimum of seven – ten years of usable life for my optics with the CR32  batteries. Based on my age I am plenty good in that department should the grid ever go down hard.

And, just in case you want to be a little on the critical side because my optics use batteries…ah, don’t. I have a non-battery back-up optic for each of my weapons. And, then a back-up to that as well, it’s called “iron sights.”  So that gives me triple redundancy for weapons optics, plenty good enough for my needs.

Next comes batteries for tactical flashlights. I use the LED Lenser flashlights. I reviewed two versions; < LED Lenser T2 >  < LED Lenser V2 >  Let’s touch on tactical flashlight usage for just a minute. The only time I use a tactical flashlight, or foresee using one, is for just that – tactical situations. That being said, I can easily see that there are times when it would be needed outside of tactical operations. However, I don’t plan on extended periods of hours, or even minutes where the light would be actually on whatever the situation.

My tactical flashlights are all the same manufacturer and virtually the same model (I have T2s and V2s) so they take the same size battery, AAA. I don’t have any other flashlights, so no other need for other types of batteries. I have an initial supply of regular 10-year shelf life alkaline batteries stored. That in and of itself gives me a head start. And, to back that up I have multiple sets of rechargeable batteries for each flashlight. I use the Tenergy rechargeable batteries. My research and testing showed that they were the #1 rechargeable battery. Tenergy batteries recharge quickly, reliably, and have a great shelf life. I know there are some Enloop fans out there, but sorry, Enloop batteries just aren’t as good a battery in my opinion. First, they are only 750mAh batteries, that is only about 75% of the Tenergy battery life. And more than anything else…they are associated with Panasonic. I have used Panasonic batteries before…Panasonic batteries suck, they suck as badly as Kodak batteries. They even suck far worse than Energizer batteries. So, in my opinion, Tenergy batteries are the better batteries…period. Now that is settled, I will close the loop…I have a pile of AAA rechargeable batteries, Tenergy batteries. That makes having a way to recharge them a priority, otherwise what use are rechargeable batteries?

Then there are my headlamps. I use only the old model Petzl Tactika headlamp (no longer made) or the Princeton Tec Tactical Quad Headlamp. And recently I tested and reviewed the Ozark Trail 150 lumen headlamp…sweet! The headlamps use AAA batteries just as my tactical flashlights.

< click here to read about Princeton Tec Tactical Quad Headlamp >.

< click here to read the Ozark Trail headlamp review >

As you well know by now, my standard radio is the Baofeng UV-5R radio – A & MHP models. For batteries I normally run the standard 1800mAh. But, I also have and use the 3800mAh battery as well. Boafeng radio batteries require a proprietary battery-charging cradle. If you do the math, the larger capacity Baofeng battery take almost four times the power that the Tenergy AAA batteries need to recharge. Think it through…then the Baofeng batteries either need a lot more power going in to recharge them quickly, or they need less power going in, but for a longer period of time. That is important concept for your power supplying/recharging system.

So here is what I came up with to recharge batteries, and to store power for later recharging.

First –

Pick your portable solar panel system. It can be as large as a Eco-Worthy 28w less-portable system or as small as a Anker A2421011 21w system. The first step of the system is the “harvesting” stage, you have to be able to turn the sun’s rays into electricity.

< click here to read about portable solar power systems >

Coming –

The next article in this series will go into storing all that energy that is being created from your portable solar panel. Storing the energy until you need it, then transferring to the device, or battery, that you need to use.


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