Yaesu FT-8900R Go Box & Power Box Together

note: first appeared in late 2015

As you know I’ve been working on a series of highly portable, field going Ham radio boxes and the portable power boxes to juice them with. This article is branching off to renewing the power to keep your Ham radio outfit up and running far beyond simply a day or two. This article is about solar power. Specifically, I will share some information about solar power from a Glowtech60 foldable solar kit.

I have already covered solar power and the recharging of small batteries powering a small radio. I did a review of a SolPad7 and Nomad7 solar recharging kits for AA and AAA batteries as well as how those little solar pads can directly charge your Baofeng UV-5RA. Those batteries of course would be powering your Baofeng UV-5RA handheld radio. But that was all about small, now is time to look at larger radios, larger power needs, and larger solutions.

Going back to the original mission that started all of this was the need for radio communications capability in the field. That mission is outlined as…

“Compact and portable radio equipment providing the ability to communicate over standard radio frequencies among family and group members.”

Once the need was identified and a mission defined, then came the power to keep it going. Yes, the portable radio go box has a battery and I also wrote a very brief article about using a Nomad7 or Boulder30 solar kit to recharge that battery. But you know me…one is none, two is one, and three is a good start. The next logical step would be an auxiliary power source to keep the radio operational for a longer period of time. That means a larger battery. Since the space is limited in the radio box, that means a box that holds that larger auxiliary battery.

OK, now we are getting somewhere. That lead to my design of the auxiliary power box. It more than tripled the overall amount of time that the radio would stay operational.

But, as I mentioned in the beginning of the article, it all ties together to form an integrated “system.”

Here are the system’s parts:

It is way easier to stay on the same page while explaining this system to you if I show you the pictures as we go. So here is the first picture…

This is the portable Ham-In-The-Box that I built for emergencies, disasters, and grid-down. The unit is wholly self-contained, including its own 14Ah rechargeable AGM battery. The radio itself will shut down at about 10vDC protecting the battery from becoming completely discharged. The next step was to build a portable power box to give the radio more operational time. The radio box is not designed to be operated sealed up. Duh! You gotta be able to access the radio. So no need to get fancy with “through-the-box” connections.

Part of the “guts” of the radio box build was a Powerwerx Red-Dee-2 4-way connector. I wanted flexibility to plug-in what I wanted and needed. The connector handles the radio, the voltage meter, and the battery. That leaves a connection open…and therein is the flexibility that I will show you.

The portable radio box is completely stand alone from an operational perspective. Open the box, connect the antenna, and plug the battery into the power distribution gadget. Then just turn on the radio and you are ready to go to work.

Note: The blue tape is holding a spare fuse that is protecting the battery. There is also a spare fuse that protects the radio. I carry a spare of each with the radio just in case.

The next step is to plug in the Boulder30 solar kit to recharge the battery. Well, technically, plugging the Boulder30 into the open connection on the power distribution block will provide power to the system and excess power will charge the battery continuously. Well, continuously as long as there is sun shinning.

We now have the stand-alone portable radio box up and running, plus a charging system in-place to keep it running. But we are somewhat limited in the amount of time that the radio can be operational. That operational time is directly related to the depth of charge, power reserve, which the small-ish internal battery has. That leaves us with the task of increasing the operational time, meaning that we need a larger battery, which then also means we need more charging capability. And that means the “portable power box.”

So the next picture shows that system hooked into the portable radio box. Notice the power cable connecting the two boxes? It is still just 10guage wire but it is heavily insulated by a durable cover that is resistant to the effects of the outdoors. It is a great choice in areas whose environment will not be kind to your equipment while ensuring it get the most power from the battery to the portable radio. Yes, it has Anderson Powerpoles on each end to ensure it connects to all my radio and power equipment.

This power box has a 35Ah rechargeable AGM battery. To protect the battery from over discharge it also has a built in Low Voltage Disconnect. Notice the power box can be completely sealed up and cables can be plugged in from the external Anderson Powerpole chassis mount.

The GoalZero Boulder30 with Guardian charge controller is now charging the power box’s 35Ah battery in the power box. However, since I have a second GoalZero Boulder30 system I can now hook up that additional system directly to the radio box rechargeable battery. Since the battery is not being used to power the radio it will come back up to full charge rather quickly given adequate sun.

Here is a picture of just the heavy power cable. For the information on how I built the heavy power cable from a set of jumper cables you can < click here to read the article >

All right, we now have hooked up the portable radio to the portable power. You have the Boulder30 charging the portable radio box’s battery. Here is a suggestion and the reasoning behind the suggestion. I suggest you run the portable radio from the portable power box. You can be charging both batteries as you normally would. But, by not using the battery in the portable radio box it allows the Boulder30 to concentrate on recharging the battery in the portable radio box.

Why is that important? Because you never know when you might have to “run” and you might have to leave some equipment behind due to time constraints. By keeping the portable radio box’s battery fully charged you know you will have several hours of radio operating time even if you had to leave the portable power box and solar kits behind.

But don’t worry about connecting all the solar kits and the boxes, just follow this guide:

  1. Set-up the portable power box and plug in the solar charging kit into the “input” side of the portable power box. You should see the voltage meter reading a combination of the battery charge and the solar panel voltage input. As long as that voltage doesn’t start dropping you are charging the battery or at least staying even with the charging vs. usage.
  2. Set-up the portable radio box like you normally would. But, this time don’t plug in the radio to the Red-Dee-2. Set-up your solar charging system and plug that solar system into the open connector on the Red-Dee-2. You should see the voltage meter reading a combination of the battery charge and the solar panel voltage input.
  3. Now, take your heavy power cable and plug it into the portable power box. Take the other end and plug it into the radio connector in the portable radio box. You radio should be ready-to-go while running the radio off the portable power box battery.

The next picture will now show how to keep the portable power box’s battery charged up with a larger solar system, the Glowtech60 solar kit plugged into it. The Glowtech60 power cable connects to the power box via the chassis mount connection block on the side of the portable power box. The Glowtech60 system has double the charging wattage that the GoalZero Boulder 30 system has. This will allow you to keep the power box up and running far more easily.

And there is one last benefit from using the Glowtech60 system to charge the power box…I freed up the second GoalZero Boulder30 panel and charge controller. I can use it to daisy chain to the radio battery giving it 60w total charging capability. Or, I can use the second Boulder30 on another battery that is in need of charging.

NOTE #1: Yes, the portable power box “input” connections can also take the standard AC battery charger. I designed a special set-up to allow your battery charger to recharge the battery directly without taking the battery out of the portable power box. Please make sure you are using a high-quality battery charger designed to work with a AGM battery. Not all battery charges are designed to do so. I would suggest NOT using your AC battery charger while the power box is hooked up to and running the radio.

You may choose to have a system that you have designed, or maybe someone else’s design. But I hope this article has given you plenty to think about and put a thought or two into your head concerning what solar/power/battery capability and options are right for your needs.

Remember, communications is one of the primary faults that exists in virtually any disastrous incident where people are injured or killed while working in emergency and disaster situations. You have the power to overcome all, or at least part, of those communications issues rather simply and cost effectively should you so choose. I hope you  choose to.

 

 

 

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Glowtech60 Solar Kit

GlowTech - Glow Tech 60w dual solar panel system 30w solar panelsnote: article first appeared in August 2015

I am not a big one for generators, I believe they have their place, but in a very limited way. But there is a bona fide need for power; radios, tactical lights, GPS, etc. But I also believe that need is very limited. If you read my post about generators you know I see far more danger in using them then benefit from using them. < click here to read the article on generator dangers > However, when it comes time to have power, it is hard to beat the solar thing. And that is the focus of this article…solar power…specifically the Glowtech60 solar system.GlowTech-02

I have written about other solar charging systems before, but only small units. But now I have the need for something more, and that led to the need for more solar charging capability.

And you might be asking just how much solar generating capability is needed. Good question. No, great question! But I can only answer that by defining the need for that solar power generating capability or we would get carried away. Then my wife would have a fit over the 100’ tall wind turbine in the back yard. Not acceptable. So let’s define the mission…

A portable solar generating kit capable of efficiently charging a 35 – 100 Ah AGM battery, or bank of batteries.

Requirements & Restrictions –

  1. It must be portable enough that one average person can carry it.
  2. It must be durable enough to handle the weather conditions in the desert SW.
  3. Set-up must be simple and intuitive.
  4. All wiring must be compatible with Anderson Powerpoles.
  5. If it is dual-panel it must come with its own frame, stand and other parts to stand-alone.

That began my journey to find the right piece of equipment. Since I already had been using GoalZero solar equipment before I naturally looked at their stuff first. Whoa!

GoalZero has always been a little pricey. And when you start looking at 50w+ panels, or dual 30w panels, it gets expensive quickly. And so GoalZero equipment was ruled out really early in the process. But that left me to doing a whole lot of research. But I got lucky…

I was doing some research on solar charger controllers and came across the Glowtech60 product. I guess it came up due to the kit has a charger controller built into the system. As soon as I clicked on the link I figured there must be eBay GlowTech - Glow Tech 60w dual solar panel system 30w solar panelssome misprint in the price of the system…$135.

I did more reading and was impressed with what the system said it could do for the money. I read specs and they seemed to be right in line with what I was looking for. There were no negative reviews to speak of. The seller had a 99.7% positive rating with only 3 negative issues in the last year out of nearly a 1000 transactions. And the price was right.

I wasn’t really finding any other product that was beating the value/cost of the Glowtech product…so Bingo! I pulled the trigger and bought it.

Let me share the standard technical information…

GlowTech-05Features:

  • High efficiency monocrystalline solar panels
  • Suited for flooded, gel, AGM, or calcium batteries
  • Low iron tempered glass resists breakage
  • Durable folding frame, so you can tilt the panels toward the sun
  • Built-in PWM charge controller
  • Bonus! Includes fabric storage bag
  • Spring-loaded carrying handle
  • Solar panels are weatherproof and sealed to withstand the elements
  • Includes cables pre-wired for easy hookup
  • 25 years warranty on the solar panels

Now comes the day I set it all up for testing. And it was a mixed bag in some ways but I am not real satisfied and let me share what I saw…

First, the unit is not lightweight but perfectly acceptable. It weighs in at 19pounds. The carrying case does have a padded handle on the carry straps. And the straps are plenty sturdy enough as is the rest of the carry bag. But there is a flaw in the bag’s design…it sucks. Well, it’s not all that bad but let me explain how it could be better.

The solar panels have a clip that hold them together on the short edge. And a spring loaded handle to carry the solar panel unit when the panels are clipped together. But the bag is designed for the panels to be inserted on the long edge. Confused yet? What I am getting at, you can place the solar panels in the bag using the built-in handle on the panels themselves. That bag orientation (long edge) doesn’t match the solar panel’s carrying handle orientation (short edge).

Yes, it is more inconvenient that anything but it makes it just a bit clumsy putting the unit into the bag. The picture may give a better story…

GlowTech-10

The panels are designed to fold together, obviously. But they designed the panels to fold with the glass surface to the outside. I would designed it to fold and protect the glass of the panels. But I understand that they are thinking of the protecting the charge controller mounted to the back of the panels. And having the hinge reversed in my design would make it impossible to angle the panels to maximize the movement of the sun across the panels.

GlowTech - Glow Tech 60w dual solar panel system 30w solar panelsThat being said, I would then have place a little protective padding on the inside of the carrying case to protect those glass panels. And since there is some extra room in the bag I am going to improvise some protective padding. I will show that at the end of the article.

GlowTech - Glow Tech 60w dual solar panel system 30w solar panels

Setting up the solar panel kit itself is very easy. Pull it out of the case, pull the legs into place and set it down on the ground. That’s it for set-up, next it the wiring.

 

 

GlowTech-11The built-in charge controller already has “pigtails” wired into the system and is ready to go. You just plug the extension that is provided into the pigtail and you are ready to go. One goes to the battery, the other goes to the “load”.

The charge controller is a PWM version and that is good to see.

The instructions that are provided with the unit describe step-by-step how to hook up the two extension cables, one to the load, the other to the battery. It says to hook up the battery first, but I am not sure why that would make any difference.

I first tested my battery with the multimeter to establish a voltage baseline. The 16′ cables were OK moving the voltage/current/power to the battery but I am going to move to 10ga wire to improve overall voltage transfer.

Then I hooked up the battery cable to my 100aH AGM battery using battery clamps. I wasn’t impressed with the wiring from the charge controller to the battery. It was only 16 gauge wire in a rather thinly insulated jacket. I measured the voltage at the end of the extension cable and there was a .74 drop in voltage. I plan on replacing the wiring with all 10ga wire and Anderson Powerpoles.

Next came hooking up the load side of the charge controller. Again, lightweight wiring with 16 gauge wire and a voltage drop. I tested various options that came with the kit and I am satisfied with the overall operations. I think the efficiency will improve with the better wiring. I am also converting everything to Anderson Powerpoles to make it compatible with all my radio and power boxes.

GlowTech PWM Pulse Width Modulation charge controller for solar systemsThe charge controller is adequate, but that is about all from the outside “looks.”. But the overall electronic guts appear to be fully functional and plenty good enough for the job. I did the research and found the charge controller is a generic PWM charge controller made in China. The unit appears in many “private label” solar application. The information I was able to gather points to it being a decent little unit.

The PWM is not in the same category as the Morningstar SL-20L-12V but the Morningstar also cost $75. The biggest drawback to the charge controller is no temperature sensing. A good charge controller needs to adjust and compensate for different temperatures. So I am not sure where the efficiency is going to end-up and I have to figure out a way to test it. I may end-up running my battery to a certain discharge voltage and then charge it with the existing PWM charge controller and then rewire and retest with the Morningstar SL-20L-12V.

GlowTech - glow tech solar panels 30wThe solar panels themselves appear to be pretty decent quality and well built. They look like they can handle rain and dust pretty well. I will give them a good long exposure to the weather here in New Mexico and let you know how that goes.

However, there is a problem…I was getting far more than what I consider to safe DC voltage coming from the charge controller. It was coming into the battery at 19volts. I contacted the company selling the panels and they never responded to me. I am going to switch out the charge controller to a Morningstar SL20L12V. And that ups the cost of the system but then I will have a quality reliable charging system. But at an additional. I still think it was worth it.

I have bought an additional PWM charge controller exactly the same as the one on the GlowTech system. I am going to do some testing on it. I hope to find out what the issue is. I will post the results when I am done.

But here is the bottom line…this unit is perfectly adequate for the mission, very affordable at the $100 -$110 mark, and just an all-round great unit. It will recharge the 100 Ah AGM deep-cycle battery in an acceptable time-frame. And the Glowtech60 system is very affordable, well worth the money, and will surely come in handy when the power goes out.

 

Update: 7/24/2019 – This article is essentially for information only…and to give you ideas. These products are no longer available. I will try to get out another recommendation when I can.

 

 

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GoalZero Boulder 30w Solar Panel & Guardian Charge Controller

GoalZeroThe first large(r) solar system that I purchased was a GoalZero Boulder 30w Solar Panel with a GoalZero Guardian 12v Charge Controller. It came already packaged and ready to put into service, which I did on Day 1. That system has not disappointed me since.

I wanted a pre-configured solar charging system that was already tested, proven and ready-to-go right out of the box. I chose GoalZero solar equipment for this application, which required ease of storage and transportability.

“Rugged, durable, and rigid. The Boulder 30 Solar Panel is built with strong tempered glass and an aluminum frame for temporary or permanent installation.”

Boulder 30 Solar Panel General Info –
* Weight: 6.5 lbs (2.95 kg)
* Dimensions: 21 x 18 x 1 in (53 x 46 x 2.5 cm)Goal Zero Boulder 30w solar panels
* Certs: CE, FCC
* Optimal Operating Temp: 32-104 F (0-40 C)
* Warranty 12 months
* Rated Power: 30W
* Open Circuit Voltage: 18-20V
* Cell Type: Monocrystalline

Ports –
* Solar Port (blue, 8mm): 14-16V, up to 2.0A (30W max), not regulated
* Can be daisy chained together.

To control the charging I chose the GoalZero Guardian 12V Charge Controller 14002 Solar charger/controller unit.GoalZero 12V Charge Controller 14002

After buying the first panel and charger/controller I purchased a second Boulder 30 panel. The two panels can be daisy-chained together effectively doubling the charging rate to 60w. Then about 6 months later I purchased a second charger/controller.

That gives me the ability to charge two batteries at the same time or redundancy on the original charger/controller unit. Two is one, one is none.

In a pinch I can use the smaller 12V solar charger (Nomad) but they have a much slower charging rate than the larger Boulder panels. But they too can be daisy-chained to increase the charge rate.

There are lots of options for solar charging of batteries and alternatives to GoalZero. You can pick whatever system is best for you, just do your research, or find someone you trust and buy what they bought. GoalZero is kind of pricey but I believe they are a high-quality brand from everything I’ve seen.

Note: I understand that GoalZero is no longer producing the charger/controller units. You can still find them occasionally on eBay for about $45 – $55.00. Worth the money.

I did make a slight modification with my two Guardians. Everything is standard with the exception that I cut the batter alligator clip connection wire assembly.

And then installed 45amp Anderson Powerpoles. This gave the battery clamps the capability to still work as designed. But, it also gave the charge controller the ability to hook directly into my radio boxes and power poxes.

This is a great combination of GoalZero equipment that provides 30w solar power or combine it with additional Boulder 30 panels to beef up your power delivery. Yes, you can buy 30w panel systems cheaper, but you can’t get cheap and GoalZero quality.

A solid buy in my opinion.

Update: 7/24/2019 – This article is essentially for information only…and to give you ideas. These products are no longer available.  I no longer recommend GoalZero products. They tend to be a full generation behind in technology and they are way over priced in my opinion. GoalZero quality has slipped noticeably in the last couple of years. I will try and get a new recommendation out as soon as I can.

 

 

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Heavy Power Cable for 12vDC Power Boxes

Heavy power Cable with Anderson Powerpoles for radionote: first appeared in August 2015

Having already designed portable radio boxes and portable power boxes there is the question on how to hook the two together. It would seem rather easy to provide a solution…and it is. But I took it just one minor step further. But let me digress for a minute…

Earlier in the summer I was taking my conceal carry mid-license refresher. And one of the instructors got out a coffee warmer thingy that he connected to a box with a battery in it. Then he hooked a small solar panel to it and started bragging on his system. I just kept my mouth shut.

But what I noticed was how lightweight the wire was between the solar panel and the box. And actually it was rather long as well. But it did make me think through just what would be the right way, an “anti-failure” way, to hook up power boxes to whatever they were supposed to be powering.

One thing I did figure out pretty quickly that at the amps and voltage we are dealing with at my level, 12vDC, 60 – 100w solar panels, 15 – 20 ampere current draws…10guage wire was plenty adequate.

However, it is the conditions in which the cable will have to “live” that will be more demanding that the size of the wire itself. The specific conditions I am referring to is outdoor, in the field, all weather, etc. That requires pretty decently protected wire. And that means thick insulation that can handle a wide range environments.

As I tried to find the right kind of wire with the right kind of jacketing I found a couple things; 1) expensive, 2) sold in long lengths, 3) had to buy it online, 4) expensive. I wasn’t happy and let it drop.Everstart 08118-77-58 Booster Cables by Coleman Cable, Inc.

Then one night I am in Walmart with my wife doing some shopping. Like I always do, I wandered over to the sporting good department to see if there was any 22LR on the shelf. Never is anymore, and not that night either. But on the way to meet back up with her I was walking through the automotive department.

Low and behold I walked past the car batteries and jumper cables. Bingo! I looked down and there was a set of jumper cables, 10ga wire, with heavy-duty jacketing. The price was way more that reasonable and way cheaper than just plain wire than I had seen online. I bought the set of jumper cables.

The next evening I had a little time so out to the shop I went. Opened up the package, took out the cables, and proceeded to cut off the clamps from the cables. I then had a nice 10ga, heavy-duty jacketed, pair of wires in a neat little 7’ length.

I installed 45 amp Anerdson Powerpoles on the ends. Notice that both wires in the pair are black. However, one is Ham In The Box - Anderson Powerpolea smooth jacket the other has multiple little ridges running its length. The wire with the little ridges is the positive, or red wire, in my book. That made it easy to install the Powerpoles.

As I was admiring my work I felt the tension and the weight of the cables themselves. And I was concerned how it might eventually affect the Powerpoles where they are held together by the little roll pin. I also wasn’t real crazy how the ends of the Powerpoles were open just enough to allow water to enter them if they got seriously wet, or I got unlucky. So I had a dilemma on my hands.

I kept thinking the problem through and I remembered the “fix” for the Baofeng UV-5RA radio 14.5” antenna. And TE Connectivity CPGI-WCSM-12/3-150-BLKsearched through my electronics tool kit for the right size shrink wrap. I took some heavy wall shrink wrap¹ cut it into a 2” long piece. Then cut another piece into a 1-1/2” piece.

I slid the 2” long piece over the Powerpole and onto the wire leaving a small amount of shrink wrap on the Powerpole itself. Then put the heat to it. It shrunk down really nicely tightening up the connection and stabilizing the wire in the Powerpole housing. It also sealed off the opening that was around the wire where it went into the Powerpole housing.Heavy power Cable with Anderson Powerpoles for radio

Next I slid the 1-1/2” long piece over the Powerpole and the previously installed piece of shrink wrap. I had it extend a little more onto the Powerpoles. Obviously it was short on the cable end, but that was OK. This piece was intended to stabilize the first, add a little more protection to the Powerpole and add a little more rigidity to the overall connection. I put the heat to this one.

Here is the picture showing the outcome. I know it is a little ugly but it works like a charm. The connection is very secure, no water is coming in between the wire and the Powerpole housing, and there is plenty of protection to avoid over-flexing of the wire where it enters the housing. In other words…it is stable and secure. Just what the doctor ordered.

Heavy power Cable with Anderson Powerpoles for radioSo now I have a very solid, durable, power cable of the right length that will carry all of the current that it will normally carry. And it can do so on any environment that I can think of because the wire jacket/insulation is really thick and sturdy.

Mission accomplished!

 

 

Two great options to make the heavy cable even more useful…

#1 – I cut enough cable on the battery clamps to install a set of Anderson Powerpoles. That enables me to still use the cable to hook to a battery via battery clamps.

#2 – I cut a hunk of the cable and installed Anderspon Powerpoles on one end. On the other end I installed a set of ring terminals and added in a little “pigtail” with another set of Powerpoles. This gives me flexibility to hook up to small batteries with “bolt terminals” or batteries that the battery clamps won’t work on. Once again…flexible and adaptable.

Note: Notice teh use of shrink wrap to protect and seal cables and Powerpoles.

Heavy Cable with battery clamps, ring terminals and Anderson Powerpoles

 Shrink wrap info –

HeavyCable-05¹ – Shrink wrap is made by TE Connectivity and its their produce ID CPGI-WCSM-12/3-150-BLK. I bought it at Home Depot for under $5.00

Technical Specs
  • Item Heat Shrink Tubing
  • Material Flexible Polyolefin
  • Wall Type Heavy Wall
  • Temp. Range-67 Degrees to 275 Degrees F
  • Shrink Ratio4:1
  • Color Black
  • Length 6″
  • Wire Range14 to 6 AWG
  • I.D. Before Shrinking 0.472″
  • I.D. After Shrinking 0.118″
  • Wall Thickness After Shrinking0.079″
  • Shrink Temp 203 Degrees F
  • Max. Voltage 1000V
  • FeaturesMeet/Exceed Industrial and Military Standards
  • Standards Western Underground

 

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TRAP – Generators can get you unwanted attention

Honda Generatornote: first appeared in January 2015

I had a buddy that was absolutely sold on generators, he had three of them. Swore by them and he was proud to own them. He was showing them off to me one day and I asked him, “What would you use them for?” He just stared at me with this blank look on his face. I asked him again. Finally he got his composure back and said for the house. I said okay, “Where is your fuel for them?” He only had a single 5-gal can of old gas, half full. My friend didn’t buy me lunch that day.

What I am getting at is a couple things:

  1. If you are going to own a generator what is specific purpose?
  2. Do you store enough stabilized fuel for it?Blackout

Then once you have asked & answered those questions I want you to think about this…Disaster struck, maybe even “grid-down”, and you get out your generator and stored fuel. You fire that puppy up and poof your lights are on, your AC is running and the freezer is safe.

OK, now think about this for one second…Who sees you are the only house on your side of town with lights on? And all your neighbors, or anyone else driving or walking by, can hear your generator purring along. What do you think will go through their head? So now it is day 5 or 10 or day 20. Now exactly how popular are you?

Honda generator with propane fuelYes, generators have their place in “prepping”, there is absolutely no question about that. But have you identified a specific purpose/mission/reason for your generator? Can it meet that task? Do you have the right amount of fuel for it and its mission? And are you prepared for a whole lot of attention, a bunch of it probably unwanted?

Do I have a generator?  Yup, a Honda EU2000i for keeping my batteries charged if the two solar panels can’t keep up.

 

 

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Portable Power Box – Part #2 (update)

note: article originally appeared in October 2015

Last July I wrote about a “power box” project that I felt added a lot of capability and versatility to by Ham Radio operations. And I expanded it to give me great capabilities in other areas of prepping as well. Well, here are couple of those ideas for you to consider.

If you haven’t read the original 2-port article I would suggest you do. It will give you the background of w the power box can do and how it was designed and built.

I started with the basic “truly portable power box” and decided to test it on what has become a primary use…charging my portable handheld radios.

I hadn’t considered it for that purpose originally. I planned on using the larger power box for that mission. However, I thought I might this much smaller box out to see if it could do the mission for just two handhelds. Recharging two handhelds would really be a big help for a limited “need” event. Why two? One for me and one for my wife. Or, one for me and one for my camping buddy. The result was extremely good!

First thing I did was top off the power box battery charge to 13.2v. Then I hooked up a dual cigarette adapter cable to the box.

Then I hooked in the 12vDC vehicle adapter for the Baofeng UV-5R charging cradle. Next I hooked the charging cradles up to the adapter. Everything was looking good, nothing burning up, no blown fuses.

I had earlier completely discharged two 1800mAH radio batteries to give it a fair test. So I went ahead and popped the radios in the chargers. Three hours later I had two completely charged handheld radio batteries. Considering that in testing the same batteries took 2 – 3 hours charging on AC power, I felt like it was a complete success. Now I have proven that I can charge my handhelds from my truly portable power box giving me more flexibility in my radio operations. And, I only brought the charge on the batter from 13.2v down to 12.7v.

Well, then it came time to bring the battery charge back up to full. I already had my Glowtech60 set-up from some previous testing, I figured I would just hook it up and top off the battery. But then I started thinking…

I love flexibility and multiple options for everything, it’s called redundancy. Some might call it OCD 🙂

So I tried to figure out all the different ways I could charge up that power box using my solar options. And one stuck out to me that I hadn’t actually tried and tested . No time like the present!

So I gathered up my SolPad7 solar charger.My SolPad7 has a 12vDC outlet to the charge controller. It also came with a cigarette style adapter/outlet. Then I made a quick cigarette adapter cable and started connecting the equipment.

At this point all that was left to do was plug the SolPad7 into the power box and see what happens.

I took a reading on the power box, 12.7v. I plugged in the SolPad7 in a sunny location and recorded the time, 11:00am.

I went back later, 1:00pm, and it was showing 12.8v.

Yo might be saying that it only went up .1v (1/10th of a volt) but that is OK with me. Notice the size of the SolPad? A mere 7″ x 10″ area, 70 square inches. And a maximum of 7w. I’ll take it!

Why? Because it gives me that much more flexibility that I didn’t have before.

 

 

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Portable Power Box – Part #2

Portable Power Box solar Ham radio - part #2note: this article originally appeared in July 2015

In Part # 1 of this series I outlined the mission for this portable power box. Here it is to refresh your memory –

“Provide sufficient power to allow the limited use of a radio for at least 15% of any given 24-hour period. During which transmission power usage will be approximately 40% of that time period.”

In that article I also laid out the different parts that would make up the “guts” of this project plus the two options of solar recharging. < click here to read Part #1 >

In this article I will go over step-by-step of this build. I hope that this gives you the motivation to consider a project such as this. It can be invaluable when you need your radio during emergencies, disasters or especially during a “grid-down” event. Let’s get started…

Step #1 – Securing the battery.

MiniMe-01It is of paramount importance that the battery be secured. Not that this is going to be rolled down a hill or placed upside down, but the battery shouldn’t move around too much. I also didn’t want to put a massive amount of weight or content inside the box either. On top of all of that, I wanted to make sure that it was relatively easy to swap out the battery. So therein lays the challenges.

So I kept looking at it trying to figure out what would be most MiniMe-02economical of material and weight. I had to secure it from moving up towards the lid and shifting lengthwise as well. First thing I did was secure one end of the battery that restricts its MiniMe-03movement towards the lid. I used a piece of 1-1/4” angle aluminum. I secure it to the box with pop rivets since this piece will not be removed from the box. Notice I used Gorilla Tape later to “pad” the piece of aluminum and to make it a bit more “sticky” helping to keep the battery from excessive movement.

Note #1: The pop rivets do not stick out further than the boxes hinge so I don’t see any problems with the pop rivets protruding a little bit.

Next I wanted to secure the whole length of the battery from moving towards the lid to prevent the battery from MiniMe-04being damaged, and especially to protect it from shorting out across the terminals. That led me to the long support. But I still had the sliding lengthwise movement to be concerned about. And I wanted to make sure I didn’t restrict the volt meter installation. Once again, notice I used Gorilla MiniMe-05Tape to “pad” the piece of aluminum and to make it a pit more “sticky” helping to keep the battery from excessive movement.

I decided all that was needed was a single, albeit tall, piece of angle aluminum to keep it from sliding lengthwise. And then I realized I could attach it to the long support to minimize the number of holes through the box. And to top it off I would drill my volt meter installation hole through the 1-1/2” angle aluminum so I wouldn’t have to fabricate an instrument panel like I MiniMe-06had originally intended.

I used Gorilla Tape to “pad” the piece of aluminum. Again, to make it a bit more “sticky” helping to keep the battery from excessive movement, but I also liked the more professional “look” it gave the overall fabrication.

The combination of the long horizontal retaining piece and the shorter vertical retaining piece are all held into place MiniMe-05by two #8 x 3/4” bolts. And those are secured with star washers and wingnuts. The wingnuts make it a whole lot easier to remove when, or if, it comes time to swap out the battery.

Step #2 – Installing the Powerwerx Panel Mount Digital Volt Meter.

I had originally was going to fabricate an instrument/control panel for inside the box. I was going to mount the volt meter to it and have  MiniMe-41a little room left over in case I needed to install something else. But after looking at the set-up I had fabricated so far I decided to mount the volt meter directly to the long horizontal support piece (1-1/2″ angle aluminum). I used a 1-1/4” hole saw and had the hole done in a couple of minutes, filed MiniMe-40smoothed and Gorilla taped for looks but the tape also to help hold the volt meter in place.

Note #2: Make sure you leave enough room for the volt meter retaining washer that will fit on the back of the angle aluminum. If you get it to close to the angle itself then the washer won’t have enough room to fit.

Note #3: My hole saw had a real “wobble” to it. It is not the best quality hole saw, so you get what you pay for. I used the Gorilla Tape to clean up the hole and make it look more professional but I almost got the hole too close to the angle. I had to finesse it a little to get it tightened up. Measure the whole thing out really well before you start to drill the hole.

Step #3 -Installing the LVD (low voltage disconnect)

I had thought long and hard about installing an LVD in each radio box, but realized the proper location is the power box itself. I am using the Energy Core EC-LVD2. However, there is no temperature sensing by the LVD unit. So I will have to see how true to the voltage the cut-out point is. Also, I adjusted the “disconnect point” on the LVD to the highest setting it has to protect the battery, 12v. I did the adjustment outside in hot weather. Why? Because that is the most probable environmental condition that I will be operating the power pack in.

MiniMe-07Next was to wire up the LVD with Anderson Powerpoles.The LVD only has a positive (red) wire to install in the circuit. The black wire is only to ground the unit itself. The heavy black wire you see in the picture to the left is simply to keep the whole wiring project organized and easy to understand.

I connected the black wire to the LVD’s red wire via zip ties. I didn’t have to. But this keeps the wiring straight and reduces the chances of confusion later if the box needs some electrical or wiring work done on it. Notice the small black wire by itself? That gets connected to the Red-Dee-2 block and grounds the LVD unit itself.MiniMe-08

The next step was to properly place the LVD in the box. I placed it on the outside of the box to clearly see where it was to be installed and how it would look in relation to the entire installation. I marked, punched and drilled the holes based on the positioning on the outside. Verified that is fit on the inside that it was good to go. Perfect MiniMe-09placement and fit.

 

Step #4 – Installing the Anderson Powerpole Chassis Mount.Anderson Powerpole Chassis Mount for 2 Powerpoles Sets (4 conductors)

I am mounting the chassis mount on the opposite side from the volt meter to make sure I have enough room to get everything in the box without it being too jumbled up. The square hole that is required is slightly larger than 1″. I located the correct MiniMe-10position for the chassis mount to go through the box wall. I marked it really clearly, including the center of the square that was to be cut out.MiniMe-11

I have a 1″ metal hole saw that works really well through tougher metal and figured why not use that to remove the majority of the metal from the hole.

MiniMe-12Once I had drilled out the majority of the hole I got out the saber saw with a good metal blade and squared off the hole easily. I used my flat file to clean up the edges.

MiniMe-13The chassis mount slipped into place exactly like it was designed to.

 

Step #5 – Wiring up the system.

Portable power box wiring diagramThe first step was to wire the chassis mount’s pre-installed Anderson Powerpole connections. I could have done a longer straight MiniMe-15run to the LVD connection. However, I am absolutely committed to MiniMe-14keeping everything modular and interchangeable. That being the case I used this short pair to connect the “power out” pair on the chassis mount to the Powerwerx Red-Dee-2 power splitter. See wiring diagram for more information.

The “power out” wires are wired to the top pair of the Powerwerx Red-Dee-2 for power box power distributionchassis mount. The lower pair in the chassis mount is for “power in” purposes. Those “power in” purposes? The solar charger, 12vDC direct charger, or to allow the power box to be hooked in parallel to its brother power box creating a 70 Ah power source.

MiniMe-42

 

 

 

I wired the “power in” wire pair directly to the battery with ring terminals and Anderson Powerpole connectors directly into the chassis mount. I wanted any “power in” to be connected directly to the battery to reduce current loss since it would be for charging the battery or running a parallel operation.

The wiring in pretty cramped and crammed in the box, but I was going for the smallest possible and practical box I could get everything into. It doesn’t have to look pretty, it just has to have quality parts and workmanship.  Oh, and it also has to work.MiniMe-50

Tip #1 – Notice I am using zip ties? That reduces the tension on the wires and takes the strain off the Powerpole connectors.

Step #6 – Testing the system

MiniMe-31As always, before putting the power box into operation I had to test the entire system. I test it one component at a time as I hook each piece up. I get a volt reading directly from the battery that becomes my baseline. Then a reading through the ATC fuse connection. Then hook that to the Powerwerx Red-Dee-2 power splitter and test each outlet of the splitter.

Then I hook up the volt meter and verify that it is getting the same reading my multimeter is getting. There was a .06 voltage difference. And that is only because the voltmeter only displays 10ths of a volt, whereas the multimeter displays in 100ths. Then finally I checked the connections in the chassis mount. All were good.

Step #7 – Protect the positive terminal.

There is a very minor issue that I felt I wanted to take proper precautions for. The positive terminal of the battery does not make contact with the box’s metal lid when the box is closed. But only by a small fraction of an inch. So I wanted to further reduce any chance of shorting the positive terminal to the box lid.

The way I did that was to cut two pieces of shrink wrap. One about 2″ long, the second slightly longer. I cut a notch out in the end of the first piece of shrink wrap to create a small “flap” that will cover the head of the bolt that is the positive terminal.

I then took the slightly longer piece of shrink wrap and did the same thing but made the notch larger to create a larger “flap” that covers more then just bolt head. So now I have two flaps of rubber that cover the head of the bolt that is the positive terminal of the battery. But I wanted to take it one step further. I took piece of my Gorilla Tape and ran it along the underside of the box. If the bolt head were to make contact with the lid, this is where ti would happen. So the layer of Gorilla Tape acts as an additional insulating layer.

MiniMe-23     MiniMe-22

bolt head battery terminal is covered with two layers of shrink wrap

bolt head (battery terminal) is covered with two layers of shrink wrap

 

Final Product !

Looking at the box from the right rear corner

Looking at the box from the right rear corner

 

 

looking at the box from the left front corner

looking at the box from the left front corner

Final Note : Yes, I put the labels on there at an angle on purpose. It was a little flair, some dramatic license, to differentiate the purposes for the two sets of Anderson Powerpole connections.

 

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No reproduction or other use of this content 
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See Content Use Policy for more information.