Today it’s all about how to use solar to boost your survival. Yes, use solar for survival. You don’t need electricity to charge the flashlight I’m highlighting in this post. All you need is the sun shining outside to collect the power. Goal Zero asked me to do a review on the Goal Zero Torch 250 USB Power Hub and Flashlight below. Here again, these opinions on that particular item are my own. I purchase Goal Zero items all the time because they are the best solar items I can find available, literally for camping, hiking and for survival situations. It’s all about solar, friends. No fuel or batteries needed. I have given some of the original Goal Zero flashlights to family and friends for Christmas. This new Torch 250 has more features and awesome ways we can use it for survival. It’s all about light for survival, at least for me.
Here’s the deal, if we lose all power are we prepared with at least some flashlights, at the very least? Oh, and don’t forget the batteries if your flashlights need them. Well, some flashlights do not require batteries at all. Here are some suggestions for flashlights and some other items that can be powered with solar, yay for solar. I do not like the dark, I have so many flashlights. I would love to ask you how many flashlights do you own? Do they all work and do they need batteries? If you have a power outage for an extended time do you have some GOOD flashlights that will work?
These Use Solar:
Can you see how large this solar panel is? It’s twice the size of the old style (which I still love and use all the time). You can use this one as a flashlight, floodlight, or red emergency light! It has a built-in charging cable, solar panel, and hand crank. You can recharge it anywhere, anytime! You will have power for emergencies and activities. This would be a great emergency flashlight in your car, at the office or at your bedside.
It has an integrated USB port that will charge phones and boost tablets to stay connected. It has a long lasting lithium battery. It now has a metal feature to hang it on a hook, tree or whatever. It has a flood light, red light, and spotlight. I highly recommend getting several of these. You can’t go wrong with Goal Zero products. I promise. Goal Zero Torch 250 Flashlight with Integrated Solar Panel
Okay, now onto this Goal Zero Solo Flashlight. I purchased two of these. I never buy just one of anything. I wanted one for the living room window and the window by the back door. Goal Zero 90109 Solo V2 Solar Flashlight I took the Solo flashlight out of the box and placed the solar panel towards the sunshine. I am ready for any power outage or a trip outside at night with my very own flashlight ready to go with me, no batteries needed. The solar charge lasts for 2-3 hours. SOLD!!!
It’s a dependable, bright flashlight that has builtin solar panel and long-lasting internal battery. Never have a dead flashlight again. Use solar, it rocks!
Many energy analysts like to make predictions at the end of the year for the coming year. Instead, I’ll point to five possible surprises in energy–surprises because few people expect them to happen. I am not predicting that any of the following will happen, only that there is an outside chance that one or more will occur. Naturally, these surprises would move markets and policy debates in unexpected directions.
1. Crude oil ends 2016 below $30 per barrel. With oil hovering in the mid-$30 range it doesn’t seem implausible that at some point in the not-to-distant future, crude oil will dip below $30 per barrel, if only briefly. What would surprise most people is if the crude oil price finished next year below $30 per barrel. The conventional wisdom is that cheap oil is giving a boost to the economy that will lift worldwide economic growth and thus demand for oil. There is also a belief that high-cost producers will simply have to stop drilling new money-losing wells after more than a year of financial Armageddon in the oil markets. This will bring down supply just as economic growth is rising, sending prices much higher as the year progresses.
The alternate view is that oil in the mid-$30 range is a reflection of an economy that has been weakening since the middle of 2014 and foreshadows a worldwide recession which should hit in full force by the end of 2016. In addition, with Iran almost certain to add to the current oversupply as sanctions are lifted and with the continued determination of OPEC to destroy the viability of tight oil deposits in the United States, the oil price could surprise on the downside, even testing $20 per barrel.
2. U.S. natural gas production declines. Despite persistent low U.S. natural gas prices, U.S. production has continued to grow. Most of the growth has been coming from two places: the Marcellus Shale where ample deposits continued to be economical in the range of $3 to $4 per thousand cubic feet (mcf) and Texas where furious fracking for oil locked in deep shale deposits also produced associated natural gas without concern for the price of that gas.
With oil drilling across the United States in precipitous decline because of low oil prices, we won’t see nearly as much new natural gas associated with oil drilling as we saw in 2014 and 2015. With natural gas now hovering around $2, even the very sweetest of the sweet spots in the Marcellus are unlikely to be profitable to exploit.
Having said all this, U.S. natural gas production growth has continually defied predictions that it would dip in the face of low prices. Part of this had to do with desperate drillers carrying heavy debt loads who had to produce gas at any price in order to pay interest on that debt.
3. Several approved U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) export projects are postponed or abandoned. One of the memes of the so-called shale gas revolution was that the United States would produce far more natural gas than it consumes and that that would open the way for liquefied natural gas exports to other energy-hungry countries. Two things went wrong. First, U.S. production, while growing, has not exceeded U.S. consumption. Despite the highest natural gas production in history, the United States had net imports of natural gas of about 3 percent of its consumption so far this year.
Second, with the price of landed LNG around the world between $6 and $7, LNG exports from the United States are currently noncompetitive. Even with U.S. natural gas at $2, when the cost of liquefying and transporting gas–about $6 per mcf–is added to the American price, landed LNG prices would have to rise to about $8 just for American suppliers to break even. And, of course, just breaking even is not a proposition investors are very much interested in.
Now, some of the export projects have already undoubtedly received commitments from buyers to take U.S. LNG under long-term contracts, usually priced at Henry Hub plus a certain amount for liquefying and transporting the gas (plus something to reward investors, of course). If those contracts are in place, then the builders of the LNG export projects don’t care what U.S. prices are. They make money no matter what. And, it doesn’t matter whether they export so much LNG that the United States is forced to IMPORT more from Canada via pipelines or possibly in the form on LNG itself.
Whether buyers make out under such an arrangement will all depend on how world spot LNG prices unfold over the next couple of decades. Undoubtedly, many of those with long-term contracts today would be better off buying in the spot market. But, of course, when prices are high, they have no protection.
What we’ll find out this year is which projects have contracts from buyers and which do not. The ones that do not yet have such contracts will almost certainly be postponed or abandoned. For those that proceed, investors who are not careful to understand how much of the capacity of the project has been taken up by long-term contracts and how much will be sold on the spot market may be in for rude surprises if they are too exposed to the spot market and that market remains soft.
4. Bipartisan support for climate change measures emerges in the U.S. Congress. You will certainly think I’m reaching here, and it would be a surprise if this does happen. But expectations for the recent climate conference in Paris were extremely low. And yet, world leaders hammered out an agreement that committed the parties to emissions limits with regular reviews. True, there is no enforcement mechanism. But even so, this result was better than most anticipated.
The same could go for a U.S. Congress stalemated on the climate issue. Even though the Republican majority has taken the view that regardless of the science, Republicans are better off opposing any measure to address climate change, not all Republicans have taken this extreme position. If enough of them peel off and join Democrats on even a small measure, it will mark progress–though it will certainly be a surprise coming in an election year.
5. World oil production declines. In the past world oil production has declined only during recessions or once in the early 1980s following a long period of rising prices and the most severe recession since World War II (that is, until 2008). We’ve had a long period of price rises from 2000 onward, followed by a severe recession. But production continues to eke out some growth.
According to figures from the U.S Energy Information Administration, worldwide production of crude oil including lease condensate (which is the definition of oil) grew by 15.7 percent in the nine-year period leading up to 2005. In the nine-year period from 2005 to 2014, production grew only 5.3 percent despite record prices and investment.
If worldwide production declines, it will almost surely be because drillers simply lay down even more rigs and companies delay development of tar sands mining projects in Canada to wait for higher prices. This restraint would have to counterbalance additions to world production expected from Iran which will have sanctions lifted in 2016 allowing it to increase its oil production and exports substantially. If peace breaks out in Libya, then the rise in Libyan oil production will probably prevent an overall decline in world production.
Recap of 2015’s list of possible surprises
1. U.S. crude oil and natural gas production decline for the first time since 2008 and 2005, respectively. While U.S. crude oil production in 2015 looks like it will exceed total production in 2014, production began to slide in June this year and continues downward. So, there was a surprise for those who thought the so-called shale revolution could go on without high prices. Natural gas production continued to rise so there was no surprise there.
2. World crude oil closes below $30 per barrel. This hasn’t happened yet and probably won’t with only a few days left in 2015. But a price in the mid-$30 range has certainly surprised a lot of people, especially those who were touting the midyear recovery of prices to around $60 as the beginning a new oil bull market. So, this did come as a surprise, but not quite (yet) the $30-per-barrel variety.
3. Developments in solar thermal energy show that it can solve the storage problem for electricity from renewable energy. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to broader use of electricity generated by renewable energy is the high cost of storing that energy for use when people need it. A Maryland inventor is still trying to put together funding for a prototype of a possibly revolutionary solar thermal capture device that he claims has 90 percent efficiency. There’s no prototype yet. Perhaps in the coming year we’ll find out whether the claim can be confirmed. So, no surprise here yet.
4. A climate agreement in Paris calls for binding greenhouse gas emissions limits. Okay, the greenhouse gas limits weren’t binding. And, of course, that’s not a surprise. What surprised me is how unanimous the world’s leaders were about the problem of climate change and how specific they were about limits in the agreement.
5. Oil prices reach $100 per barrel before December 31, 2015. This possible surprise was premised on a robust world economy and an OPEC relenting on its war on frackers in America and tar sands in Canada. The OPEC war continues, and the world economy seems weaker at year-end than when it began.
Solar chargers collect and store the sun’s energy so it can be used later on to charge small electronics that are often tremendously useful aids to survival.
As we have already demonstrated, you can recharge many small devices using solar energy for as little as $30. Unfortunately, the smaller models also have significant limitations that preppers need to be aware of.
For example, most chargers use small solar panel(s) that cannot fully charge the unit’s battery in a single day of sunshine. This makes them fine for topping of the charger’s battery or using them to recharge your phone while you are away from AC power for the day, but a poor choice for constant use such as charging multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously in an emergency.
Second, most small solar chargers do not have variable power output. There are a few models that do, but they are considerably more expensive. Maximum output varies by model and is pretty low. So while they may be able to charge a headlamp or a cell phone, they cannot charge large banks of small batteries or larger electronics such as most notebook computers and radio gear.
Portable Solar Solution
A good portable solar setup can do things that a pocket-sized device cannot, such as charging a car battery, running powerful portable ham radio equipment, drive fans, drive pumps, power electric hand warmers, charge banks of small batteries or charge several smaller devices all at once.
It can be a single “black box” that has the necessary components integrated into one product or you can buy the individual components separately. They are most often something in between, so you can mix and match solar arrays and batteries according to your needs and maintain a degree of modularity to prolong the life of the equipment in light of the fact that technology will change.
Whichever you choose, a portable power solution provides an enormous amount of flexibility over smaller integrated USB solar devices.
Whether manufactured or built from components, most are modular in design so you can use larger or smaller solar panels or batteries in order to meet your needs.
Portable solar systems have the same principal components:
Battery (Stores electricity)
Power Output (USB Port, Auto Cigarette Lighter Receptacle, PowerPole Connector)
Charge Controller (Interrupts flow of power from the solar panel to the battery when full or too hot to avoid damaging the battery)
Solar Panel (Turns solar energy into electricity)
By choosing larger and smaller components, we can generate more power or store more power. The battery or battery bank stores the energy generated by the solar panels or array of them. The solar charge controller ensures that we do not damage the battery as the solar panels charge it.
Buy or Build?
If you prefer to purchase a solution there are many to choose from. You can buy a production model or even have a small business build to meet your needs. Buying is more convenient, but also usually costs more. It is OK to be a driver and not a mechanic, but most self-reliant people like to be able to maintain and repair critical equipment.
Greater than cost savings, for many, is the fact that doing often teaches us things that we cannot learn in any other way. Survival reigns supreme amongst DIY pursuits, and the process of building is educational.
Even if you value convenience over thrift, you should still understand your alternative energy system well enough to maintain it. You will not likely be able to send equipment back to the factory for repair if the grid goes down. If your concern is convenience, building your own alternative energy solution does not actually involve building anything. In many cases, all you need to do is read a little and plug in a few wires.
Whether you buy or build, you will still need to evaluate features. So I will go over the most critical points for each component. I will address solar charge controller and power outputs under battery as they are sometimes integrated.
The battery capacity must exceed the draw your equipment demands from it. Select a battery with at least 50-100% greater capacity than you think you will need. You solar power generator will not be 100% efficient and the sun will not always cooperate with you. So keep in mind these about the battery:
Battery technology & portability: For this application, you will want a Li-ion battery. They are lighter, smaller, and typically last more charge cycles when deeply discharged. If weight does not matter, you can use larger, heavier, less expensive battery technologies.
If you discharge a typical li-ion smartphone battery completely (100%) each time before you charge it, after doing this about 250 times, the battery will last about 75% as long as it did when it was brand new. Manufacturers very conservatively consider this the end of the battery’s useful life. It will still work, but it will not last as long. How do you make it last longer? Don’t discharge it completely or buy much larger battery bank than you will need so you do not have to discharge it deeply.
If you only discharge a Li-ion battery to 50% of capacity instead of 100% (complete discharge), it will last 1200-1500 charge cycles. Discharge it only 25% and it will last 2000-2500 cycles. Recharge it after 10% and it will last 3750-4700 and you could use it every day for 10-12 years and it will last 75% as long as when brand new. Heat also shortens battery life so keep batteries cool and trickle charge them as opposed to rapid charging them.
Battery size: Calculate how much current your equipment will draw. This is not difficult and much has already been written on the subject, so I will not repeat it here.
Solar charge controller: This is needed to protect the battery against overcharging. Some batteries have one built in and some do not. Either is fine, but you need to be aware of whether or not the battery has one built in since you do not want more than one. If a charge controller is not integrated into the battery you buy, you will need to get one that matches the output of your solar panel since they come in different sizes. They are installed between the solar panel’s output and the battery’s input. If the adapters do not match, you can crimp on adapters that do.
Charge state indicator: This is essentially a “fuel gauge” for the battery. It can be an LCD, series of LEDs, single LED or gauge that tells how capacity is remaining in the battery.
Variable power inputs: As supplied by the factory, many battery packs can be charged from a wall outlet, cigarette adapter or USB port in addition to a solar panel. These are power inputs. Consider how you plan to charge and maintain the battery before an emergency. It is convenient to be able to charge the battery from your home and vehicle without having to use the solar panel when you maintain it in between usage. Even if multiple inputs are not built in, you can still use a converter or adapter, but they add a little bulk.
Power outputs: This refers to the type of plug and how much current your devices will need and is typically expressed in voltage milliamp hours. They are often built into batteries along with a charge controller. Consider how power is input to the devices you use. Then consider other capabilities you might need in an extended emergency. If all your gear has 5v USB inputs, it’s best to get a battery with 5v outputs. Otherwise you will have carry an adapter to make the output usable for each device and it will decrease efficiency.
Some Li-Ion battery packs come with variable output which enables you to vary the output voltage and amperage. This is a great feature because it eliminates having to carry a different power adapter for every piece of equipment. You may still need adapters.
I swap my 12v DC equipment over to the same type of genderless connector called the Anderson PowerPole connector. This simple modification is performed by stripping and crimping power cables. If you can do that, you can drastically reduce the number of cables and connectors needed to run your gear off the same type of connectors.
Consumer Ratings: Even if you buy locally, it is still worth the trouble to checkout product ratings online before you buy.
2. Solar Array
Years and years ago, (well over a decade) I shelled out around $375 for a Brunton Solaris 26 portable solar array that I still use today.
Unfortunately, inflation has practically kept pace the price drop in flexible (thin film) solar arrays so they aren’t a whole lot cheaper now than they were a decade ago and you can probably find the exact same product still available for sale for about $300. They are very durable and don’t have moving parts so they are pretty rugged.
The Solaris 26 folds up to the about the size of a notebook computer and unfolds to about 2 feet x 4 feet and has grommets in the corners to hang it from a pack, tree, tent or vehicle. I chose this model because it outputs 26 watts at 12v DC and I wanted it to be able to charge car batteries, gel cells or the considerable more expensive, larger and heavier Li-Ion battery packs of the day in order to run amateur radio equipment, small electronics, cell phones and notebook computers at that time.
Today, lighter Li-Ion battery packs with variable output are available. This is a boon to anyone planning to pack in this type of gear on foot, bicycle pack animals or using carts or other small transport.
What to look for in a solar array:
Technology and Portability, 1st Gen vs 2nd Gen: What are your size and weight constraints? If it needs to fit in a pack, you will probably want Gen 2 Solar panels. If it will be mounted to a vehicle, Gen 1 would be better. Gen 1 panels are the heavier glass ones, Gen II are the light, flexible thin-film ones. Gen 1 is a little more efficient in bright sun at lower latitudes and with optimal orientation, especially on a mount that tracks the sun, and are cheaper, and they are heavy. Gen II is more efficient in Northern latitudes, on cloudy days, with imperfect orientation and are more portable.
Output Current: For solar panels, this is normally expressed in voltage and wattage. To determine how much output you need you need for a particular application, you will need to calculate your electrical load and how long you will run it, but in practical terms, for a portable solution, you may have to start with what you are willing to tote around and work back to how much you can use your gear from there because how often you use your equipment is negotiable, how much weight you can carry before you start making soft compromises is less so.
A 100W, 19v array is the largest you would want to pack, 50 watts or 25 watts at 12v still gives you plenty of power for what most people would normally carry in a pack. If you just bring a cell phone and maybe a headlamp, you can get by with an integrated device that produces a few watts and can fit in your pocket like the ones discussed in Part 1 of this series.
How do you determine the wattage and voltage your panel should be rated for? You need to be able to charge the battery. So for voltage, if you determined a 5v pack is best because your devices are USB, 5v will be most efficient. If you chose 12v or 13.8v for radio equipment or 19v for a notebook computer, the same thing goes. It is most efficient and less confusing at this stage to choose a panel with output that matches the voltage of the battery.
In determining the wattage, you will need to be able to bring the battery back up to full charge with the usable sun you have per day which averages about 6-7 hours on a sunny day, typically from 9:30am to 3:30 pm, but this differs somewhat by latitude and generation of solar panel.
Ruggedness and water resistance: What environment will you be using it in? Best case, equatorial desert and you shelter in when it rains, which is infrequently. Worst case? Torrential rains, high latitudes, 100% humidity, perpetual cloud cover, on a small boat constantly exposed to salt air. You also need to consider if you will constantly moving and how much of that movement will be in a straight line. Best case is you can use it in a secure camp where no one will try to steal it.
Consumer Ratings: Don’t forget to see how products performed for others before you buy.
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