Energy Options > Solar Power

Plug and Play emergency/camping power center

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Scott:
Howdy folks,
                   For a while I've been planning to build an emergency power center of some sort.  Something with battery, capable of being charged from a variety of sources (solar panel, 12VDC lighter socket, 120VAC wall current) etc.  I thought it would be handy to include circuits so that I could charge AAA thru 9V batteries, power an inverter to charge cell phones, laptops, etc... and power a compact fluorescent light bulb.

Lots of design work and soldering to do all that.  Then I was checking out Harbor Freight and found this:

http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=96157

It apparently can be charged from a 12VDC lighter socket or 120VAC, has an inverter, voltmeter to monitor the battery, 12VDC sockets in case you need them after it's charged up, an air compressor, and it can jump start your vehicle.  Granted since it's HF I'm wondering about the qualilty, but if the battery goes to hell I can always replace it with a better gel cell or something.  Likewise if any of the electronics goes south, I was already planning to build all this anyway so I can just retro-fit something of my own design inside and it will look far better than I could have made it.  The price of this thing is less than I would have had to spend on the parts to do most of what I planned, so it makes sense to go this route.

HF has some 5W solar panels for $36.99, and I found some links to some fairly affordable 10W and 15W panels elsewhere.  Since most of those solar battery tender panels terminate in a 12V lighter plug, and the Harbor Freight Portable Power Pack already allows you to plug one of those in to charge it, I ought to be able to just buy a 5W to 15W solar battery tender and just plug it right in.  Voila, one emergency power center with almost all the features I desired, capable of being charged by the sun, or my jeep, if no utility power is available. 

the 12V 17AH battery should be enough to charge a laptop, charge my cell phone, run a Compact Fluorescent bulb in a lamp, and a radio or other small load with no problem.  For charging AAA, AA, C, D,and 9V I could just plug in the battery charger I already own and I'd be good to go as well.  If I want to run more loads, I also bet it would be easy to connect another lead acid battery via the 12VDC charging port to add capacity. 

The whole thing will fit in my jeep, and get me out of a jam if I end up stranded with a flat tire or bad battery... which happened to me this morning interestingly enough.  Since it is capable of doing that duty as well as being a backup power source for camping or power outages, it's easier for me to justify the expense.  It will cost less than the parts I'd need to build a similar system even IF I have to replace a crummy HF battery, and any layman could just buy the stuff and do the same thing without breaking out a soldering iron or even putting on a thinking cap.

I'll be buying it and a solar panel within the next week or so. 

Thoughts? 

Roknrandy:
That's a nice little unit. I've also seen this one http://www.northerntool.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/product_6970_200370363_200370363 that has a solar panel on it to trickle charge the battery.

GroundPounder:
I have something similar I got at COSTCO and really like it.  It is good for SHORT TERM use.  I use the air pump, jump starter, and battery quite a bit.  Mine has a built in fluorescent bulb, but I rarely use it. The inverters never power as much as they say, but for a few small items it works well. 

Be sure to always keep it charged.  Not just because it needs to be ready when you need it, but because lead acid batteries prefer to stay at a full charge.  That will extend the life. 

Mine was in the $40-$45 range so check Costco.  Have not seen any in a while but they do carry them periodically.



archer:
These are nice!

Michael Masse:
Came across a 12 volt trickle charger yesterday at Costco.  It's actually two units that you can plug into your cigarette lighter or directly to the battery.
Website lists it for $40 bucks but it was $30 for the pair at the store.

http://www.costco.com/Browse/Product.aspx?Prodid=11298862&search=solar&Dx=mode+matchallpartial&Mo=17&cm_re=1_en-_-Top_Left_Nav-_-Top_search&lang=en-US&Nr=P_CatalogName:BC&Sp=S&N=5000043&whse=BC&ViewAll=18&Ntk=Text_Search&Dr=P_CatalogName:BC&Ne=4000000&D=solar&Ntt=solar&No=1&Ntx=mode+matchallpartial&Nty=1&topnav=&s=1

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