Do you have enough candles stored away?

emergency candles for disasters and grid-downnote: article first appeared in August 2015

I have a number of preparedness friends that talk to me about their generators. I listen patiently and allow them to go on and on about how their generators can run their house, run their air conditioning or run their freezer for some number of days. I invariably ask the question, “Then what?”

They seldom have a good answer.

My point is, why have a generator for household needs? There are some exceptions but I consider those exceptions to fall mostly into the medical category. The most notable exception would be battery charging. And battery charging only when your solar charging system can’t recharge your batteries. And I am only talking batteries to run your Ham radios, handheld radios or power boxes to run mobile radios. And, maybe your AAA & AA battery chargers that already aren’t solar powered.

What the heck am I really saying and what does that have to do with candles?

OK, I am not a fan of generators unless they have a very specific purpose and a very, very limited mission. Example: powering a Ham radio. I am not a fan of generators for general purpose electric generation and certainly not for “lights.”

Read this : TRAP – Generators can get you unwanted attention. < click here to read the brief article >

Hence my tie to candles. I am a big believer in candles.Candles for emergency lighting

I firmly believe that you can use candles for 99% of your true lighting needs during emergencies and disasters. And for grid-down I am not sure you have any viable long-term alternatives. So how many candles do you have stored?

First of all let’s define the two levels of candle needs; 1) short-term for emergencies and disasters, 2) long-term for grid-down.

Short-term needs are pretty easy to meet. Calculate the maximum number of days you feel an emergency or disaster could knockout the power. Then figure how many hours each day that you would need light from those candles. You would have to figure-in the activities requiring the candle light (i.e. reading). Then take the number of hours per day of need X the number of days expected. Take that number and add 50% to it for a margin of error and unexpected issues.

If you expected a 3 hour per night need and you expected the power could be off for a maximum of 10 days then you would need 30 hours of candle use. But, then add in the 50% margin of error and that number bumps to 45 120 hour emergency candleshours of need. Now just go buy the right sized candle with the appropriate expected burn time. You can buy 115 & 120 hour emergency candles out on the Internet for $8 – $12. So you should be able to meet your needs easily and economically.

Sound pretty simple, yes? And it is.

Emergency candles come in one basic form, so-called “paraffin.” But paraffin comes in two basic forms in relation Candles at hobby lobbyto emergency candles, liquid and solid. You are probably most familiar with solid paraffin candles, just walk into Hobby Lobby.

Liquid paraffin is actually more efficient when it comes to lighting. But don’t confuse “liquid paraffin” with “solid paraffin” at all. While theoretically they are both hydrocarbons, you can’t make traditional candles out of liquid paraffin. and you can’t make liquid paraffin by melting candles. Liquid paraffin is actually highly refined kerosene. It is referred to as lamp-oil in many places.

But between the two, it is mostly cost that drives the purchases. Then storage capability. Get the most burn-time for your hard-earned money for candles you can safely store.

Couple thoughts:

  • Watch for garage sales, estate sales or church rummage sales. Sometimes regular everyday candles can be bought for a fraction of the cost of those in stores.
  • Keep an eye on “dollar stores.”  They sell some pretty big candles for $1 from time-to-time. Just buy one of the big candles, take it home, and test it for burn-time. Go back and buy as many as you can if you get good burn-time out of them.
  • Candle-03Some of the preparedness websites regularly have both kinds of emergency candles on sale. https://www.foodinsurance.com/ has them onsale for $5.59 when you buy 12. That is 1200 hours of candle light for $67.00
  • I bought and use ReadyCANDLE from https://www.foodinsurance.com. They are inexpensive when bought on sale and ready to use when needed. They give out lots of light and they are not the hassle of a regular candle.

However, what about long-term “grid-down” needs?  That becomes whole new ball game when you can’t continue to buy regular or liquid candles. In a future post I will go into detail about making your own candles with nothing special other than what you already will have on-hand. But for now, think in terms of homemade candles…

Candle-08

Candle-07emergency candles made out of crisco

 

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Will we really be hit with an EMP? (part #2)

EMP Strikenote: article first appeared in December 2015

In part #1 yesterday I laid out the case for the probability of an EMP strike on America. I started laying out the case for the severity of the impact of such a strike. This article, Part #2, finish up on the impact severity, and end with what you can do to mitigate the EMP threat.

It is probably a good idea to read Part #1 first if you haven’t already done so.

Severity –

The experts and planners really don’t know for sure just what the extent of and EMP blast effects might be. Yes, there are books written talking about a 90% die-off in the first year. But, they are writers not experts in EMP warfare, they are novel authors.

I had the opportunity to talk to a 40 year expert that worked for Motorola and was a professor of electronics at a major university. We discussed the EMP potential. He explained to me that all their own testing was different than the hype and scare that we hear about in the media and read about in the books.

He was referring to all the post-EMP books hyping pre-computer controlled cars. Granted, vehicles with all the EMP resistant BOVdifferent computer technology would be far more susceptible to being rendered useless by an EMP strike. So some cars beginning in the mid-70’s began using integrated circuits, actual computer modules were about 3 – 5 years later. Obviously any vehicle without an integrated circuit board or computer module would be far less susceptible to damage from an EMP strike.

He went on to explain that not even the cars with computers that were all “zapped” had died an electronic death. The EMP pulses that they tested with only killed about 60 – 70% of cars with computers. I found that very interesting. He explained that sometimes all they had to do was disconnect a battery and the car would survive just fine. And not all the batteries were automatically destroyed by the pulses either. So the outcome for vehicle transportation may not be as dreadful as some would lead us to believe.

Electronics were a little different in their testing. If electronics weren’t protected they usually got wiped out. But, they also discovered that protecting the delicate electronics wasn’t all that difficult. They found the concept was to direct the energy of the pulse around the electronic gadget not allowing any of the energy to come in contact with the piece of equipment.

When I asked him how difficult it was, he chuckled and said, “Not very.” He told me that placing electronics in a metal box on insulated material should be just fine.

To me the operative word was “should.”

He said there was no way to conclusively say what kind of metal box worked all the time. And the reason is the EMP pulse itself. The energy flows through the air at different frequencies. The key was to block that specific frequency of energy associated with that specific EMP blast. And he also told me that there couldn’t be any gaps in the metal box, a tight metallic seal was paramount.

By then my eyes were kind of glazing over, I was getting lost. Then he said it was pretty simple to test. He said take an FM radio, tune it to a clearly heard station, and turn the volume up. Then place it in your metal box on insulated material. Slowly start to close the lid. If the radio reception died away and you could no longer hear the radio then the box was blocking the energy frequency of most EMP pulses.

He did qualify that by saying that to the best of their knowledge at that time EMP, energy pulse frequencies were roughly that of FM stations. And that is why if you could block the FM reception, you could block the pulse energy. And technically you weren’t blocking the energy pulse. The metal box was moving the energy pulse around the outside of the box not allowing the energy to come into contact with the radio’s antenna.

He also said it would be a good idea to remove the battery and the antenna from the radio. That would further assist in keep the energy out of the radio since both of those items attracted energy. We talked about wrapping the radio in a layer of insulation and he thought it would help if there were no gaps in the wrapping.

Faraday Cages –

We talked about Faraday Cages for awhile, he was not impressed. He thought they were overrated and pretty Farday Cage protection against EMPmuch was just a fancy and more expensive version of a metal box. He even mentioned that a garbage can with no holes or cracks, with a tight fitting lid, and lined with a non-conductive material could accomplish the same thing…maybe even far better.

The idea was simply to keep the energy from entering or contacting the piece of electronic gear that you were trying to protect.

A Faraday Cage was simply a fancy metal mesh box, that might not work as well as a metal container such as a garbage can mentioned a minute ago. We again talked about steel garbage cans with a plastic lining (i.e. a plastic garbage can) as an option. He said that would probably be just fine if the garbage can lid was tight fitting and let no gaps in the lid’s seal. We talked a little more and he liked my idea of using crumpled up aluminum foil as a “gasket” to ensure that there was no gap at all between the lid and the garbage can lip.

Layer after layer –

After thinking it through for awhile I talked with another buddy of mine, a serious and intelligent prepper. And the qualifications to be called such. We talked for awhile about EMP strikes and the potential for damage. Mostly sticking to how to protect radio equipment from damage.

When as was said and done we decided that we would wrap our gear in non-conductive material ensuring that there were no gaps. Then wrap that bundle in aluminum foil without gaps or open seems. So, imagine a bubble-wrap envelope sealed tight with clear shipping tape. Then that bundle is wrapped tightly with aluminum foil with absolutely no gaps in the wrapping.

Then use the non-conducting bubble wrap again, then another foil wrap, and then finish them off with a final layer of non-conducting bubble wrap. When we were all done with that, we placed them in a metal box with a tight fitting lid that left no gaps between the lid and the box.

I thought through that a lot. Basically we would be doing what my expert buddy had talked about. End result…redirecting the energy around the piece of electronic gear you are trying to protect.

Now what?

What to do now?” is the big question isn’t it. And honestly, that is up to you. I didn’t say that to be smug or avoid answering the question. It really is up to you.

Here’s how I see it…

  1. If you take your radios and EMP proof them in a metal box, then you don’t get to use the radio. You don’t get the operational practice or get to have fun with the radios.
  2. The EMP pulse, if it does occur, might be on a completely different frequency than what you have prepared for. Therefore your box is a complete failure and your radios get fried anyways.
  3. We may never get hit with an EMP pulse. Remember, it is rated in the low or very low probability category. So you wasted all that time, effort, and money for nothing.
  4. Or you can hedge your bet. The Baofeng UV-5RA radio is very inexpensive. Buy a set to use with all the right accessories, etc., especially the programming software. Get them all set up and enjoy them. Then buy just the radio itself, a back-up  for each radio you actually use. Program them, wrap ’em up, box ’em up for that potential EMP strike. And just to be on the safe and plush side…throw in the old family laptop with RT Systems programming software loaded on it, along with the cable and DVD.
Become obsessive?

No! While the potential for an EMP strike severity could be quite high if we are struck, the probability of being struck is still quite low. So there is no reason to start obsessing over being hit with an EMP.

And honestly, what part of your preps are truly dependent on electronics or batteries? For me it is:

  • Radios
  • Tactical flashlights
  • Solar generators
  • Night vision
  • GPS

Yup! That’s it for my dependency on electronics and batteries. So I have to ask myself the question, “Could I survive without all of the above?”

“Of course I could!” is the easy and accurate answer. Would it be more convenient with them? Yes. But we could get long without them.

So you really have to ask yourself the same questions –

What preps of your depend on electronics and batteries?

Could I get by without those things?

Summary –

As far as priorities go I would put EMP-proofing your electronics way, way down the list. I would say look into it after; a year’s worth of food, water, and garden seed. And then after, considerable medical supplies, weapons, and 1000’s of rounds of ammo. Then put in water filtration and purification capability, a good tents, clothing, and quality tactical gear. Then…and only then, would I consider worrying about protecting my gear from an EMP.

This has been a really long article on EMPs, but I thought it prudent to go through it in detail. But, by now you also have a pretty good idea of what you need to be doing about it.

Now…just go do it!  “whatever “it” may be.

 

 

 

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Will we really be hit with an EMP? (part #1)

EMP Strike electromagnetic pulse note: article first appeared in December 2015

I’ve pretty much stayed away from the whole EMP subject over the years. I’ve been asked about it a bunch of times but given some pretty vague answers. I guess it is time I get serious and share my real opinions on it.

Background –

My EMP opinion has changed over the years. Remember, I worked with intelligence information when I was in the Navy back in the 1970’s. I can tell you that back then during the Cold War there wasn’t any war-based “measured response” option. There also wasn’t any of thought of a weapon to do little damage to conquer the Soviet Union or any East Block country. We were in it to win it! And that meant nuke the crap out of them.

Sure, they knew about EMP effects for nuclear explosions even back then. But that was a distant concern, issue, or topic. What we wanted was to devastate them, their military, their people, their infrastructure, just basically blow em up.

But, as times have changed I have looked at what would Russia want to do to us in terms of war-based destruction. Russia is short of resources, all kinds of resources with the possible exception of fossil fuels. That being the case, I don’t think Russia would want to slick us off like glass with nukes. Well, with one possible exception, if we hit them first. If we would throw our missiles at them first, they would throw everything they had back at us as fast as they could turn keys and push buttons.

If you think about it, why would Russia, or even China, want to turn us into a nuclear wasteland? I simply don’t think Iran Nuke weaponsthey would.In all reality…they would love to have access to our resources…natural and man-made.

Iran on the other hand has the stupid 12th Imman, end of the world thing as part of their Muslim Shia beliefs. Those crazies would nuke us just to fulfill their desire to expedite the end of the world. But, Iran would hit Israel before they would hit us.

The crazies in North Korea, although crazy, don’t do anything without the approval of China. NK won’t nuke us unless China tells them it’s OK. North Korea really doesn’t want war. They know they would lose. But, they want the attention and associated power that comes with threatening war.

We are China’s biggest customer of the goods they produce. We spend huge amounts of money buying their stuff year in and year out. China loves those dollars! Why would they want to blow-up their best customer?

Well, there actually is a point when China might make a move against us. China has been an empire for 1000’s of years. Yes, China is currently a communist country, but it no less an empire now than it was 500 or 1000 years ago. When it comes to international politics China views everything in a very large context. I am talking in terms of 100’s of years to accomplish something, for sure decades.

Let there be no doubt in your mind, China expects to be a, if not the, world dominating empire. It is only a matter of timing for them. When China decides that the timing is right, they will use all appropriate tools available to them to accomplish their goals. And using nukes against us is seen as a strategy, nuclear weapons are nothing more than tools to them. Albeit maybe not their first or most desired option.

That being said, I do not think that China wants to slick us off either. It just wouldn’t fit their history-based reputation. Sure, they want to beat us, and beat us decisively, but I don’t see them going into “annihilation mode” on us. I think they want to subjugate not eliminate. They like our natural resources and ability to grow lots of food.

You also have Pakistan and Turkey as nuclear armed countries. While they are both supposedly secular governments, they are both Muslim countries. Pakistan has really moved towards being a Islamic government, Turkey is now maybe the most Muslim of both countries. When Pakistan completes its total transition to an Islamic state, then I would move them into a similar category as Iran. Same would be true for Turkey. I think it won’t be long for both of them to finalize that transition.

So what about the EMP thing again?

Remember, I look at “threats” as “risks.” And I then look at all of it in terms of “risk mitigation”. Risk is judgement based on probability and severity of the risk actually occurring. I look at an EMP strike the same way.

Probability –

I see the risk of us being hit by a nuclear weapon that generates an EMP as low…very low at this time actually. The reason I give it such a low probability is their fear of retaliation. Russia and China have no desire to exchange a nuclear strike with us. Iran would probably love it but they aren’t ready for that yet. Pakistan and Turkey probably aren’t ’t too far behind Iran but they are maintaining a resemblance of normal behaviors. North Korea, well, they are complete nuts jobs in that country, so I don’t expect them to actually launch a nuke at us.

So based on all of that, I see the probability as pretty dang low. However, 20 years ago I would have given it a zero chance. 10 years ago, slightly more than zero. When Iran did the nuke deal with Obozo I believe Iran’s potential use of a nuke against another country went to 100%. Their use of a nuke against us is maybe at 50%. Iran nuking Israel………..just a matter of time. It’s not an “if”……it’s a “when.”

So now I have to rate the probability as on the chart.

Severity –

Here is where it could get ugly. If anyone launches a nuke at us and it actually detonates on US soil, it will be devastating regardless of where it hits. It will be the blow against us that challenges, and perhaps negates, our super-power status. If we are hit, and we don’t hit back, we will be re-categorized to the group that includes France, England, Italy…maybe worse. If we are hit and we hit back, then we can expect WWIII. And should that happen, an EMP is the least of our problems.

So let’s look at the severity if it is just an EMP. By the way, it would be more along the lines of North Korea going rogue and hitting us with an EMP without China telling them to. However, there is a potential scenario where China would tell them to hit us with an EMP just to weaken us and test out retaliation resolve.

Whatever the reason we were hit, the outcome would be very damaging. The damage would be two-fold. 1) the EMP-Strike hits our power gridactual direct result damage to infrastructure, 2) the economic fallout.

Economic Collapse from an EMPThe economic damage would be far worse than the direct damage. The stock markets would crash, the economy would nose dive. It would be economic Armageddon for awhile. Mostly due to banking being out of business. Yeah, completely out of business. Modern banking is all computer based with that information being transferred between customer and banks, banks and business, etc. entirely by electronics (i.e. the Internet). An EMP would fry most large-scale electronic systems, including the Internet and telecommunications.

EMP Strike effectsThe direct damage is a little less clear. EMP damage is directly related to a few things:

  1. The size of the weapon as described in “megatons”
  2. The altitude above the surface of the earth
  3. Your relative location to the blast area

The absolute worse location to be at the time would be directly under the atmospheric blast. As the zone expanded outward, the impact would lessen. But, that would be in direct relation to the size of the detonated weapon. The bigger the weapon, the larger the affected area. However, the further away from the blast you were, the more diminished the impact would be.

Now is when it gets blurry. And I will cover that tomorrow when I finish this 2-part series.

 

 

 

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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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No reproduction or other use of this content 
without expressed written permission from AHTrimble.com
See Content Use Policy for more information.

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

 

2009 - 2019 Copyright © AHTrimble.com ~ All rights reserved
No reproduction or other use of this content 
without expressed written permission from AHTrimble.com
See Content Use Policy for more information.