Off the Grid – Not Out of PowerBrian Neville
Portable solar charging panels allow you to charge and power electronics even when you’re off the grid. Trekkers, boaters and RV’ers have been testing them out and giving feedback to manufacturers for a few years now. That’s good news for Preppers who want reliable, compact, lightweight portable power in a disaster, emergency – or if they just decide to slide off the grid for a while.
Depending on the size, portable panels can power cell phones, tablets and laptops, while larger versions can power appliances and lighting. (Larger panels may be critical for those with medical equipment that depends on electricity.) Prices range from $50 – $3,000 and charging times vary from 3 or 4 hours to a new invention that claims to charge cell phones and tablets at the same rate they would charge if plugged into the wall
The right panel for you is the right combination of price, portability and charging speed and power.
If price and portability are most important, the Solio H1000 ($80) is an interesting option because it comes with a carabineer clip so you can charge while you walk or hike. You’ll get about 45 minutes of power from about 4 hours in the sun. Solio also offers a more expensive option, the Solio Classic ($100). The Classic is a popular, travel-friendly option that provides around 160 minutes of power from 3 or 4 hours of charging. If you can handle a little more size and weight, the FatCat Solstice ($100) is about half a pound and the size of a couple of cell phones. It has the largest battery capacity and the double folding panels mean it charges faster.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Goal Zero Yeti ($2600) powers appliances and medical equipment indoors or out with none of the emissions or other problems generators have. It requires a 40+ hour charge, so it’s something you’ll need work into your preparedness maintenance.
With all sizes, makes and models, slow charging has been the major complaint of portable solar panel users. However, there’s a new kid on the block that claims he’s made slow charging a problem of the past. The SunVolt Portable Solar Power Station was a Kickstarter project undertaken by a sailboat owner who wanted to charge his iPad on the water. He claims his invention charges his tablet at the same speed it would charge plugged into the wall. The SonVolt even looks like an iPad, which means it’s portable and folds into it’s own carrying case. The project was just fully funded in September of this year, so you may want to wait and see if the SonVolt delivers.
Portable solar panels make sense for long- and short-term emergency preparedness plans, and they come in a range of prices and functionality to fit a range of budgets and needs. (Be sure to check the specs on any portable panel before you buy to be sure it is compatible with your devices.)