In today’s world, we rely on electronics to do everything from guiding us through the wilderness to cooking our food to keeping us connected. Whether your need is for a short-term or long-term emergency, there are likely ways you can keep powered using photovoltaics (PV or solar power).
Every modern 72-hour kit, for instance, should include a solar-charging radio and flashlight combination (at minimum). But what about cell phones, GPS units, and other needs during an emergency?
Emergency Essentials with Solar Power
Besides the flashlight/radio combination, there are plenty of other things that use solar power that can be included in an emergency kit. Solar-powered battery or gadget chargers are almost a must. Simple chargers for cell phones, GPS units, and the like can be used, and they are relatively inexpensive.
The price tag for these solar charging units will be directly related to its portability. The more portable (and powerful) the unit is, the more it will cost. So if the charger and panels are for your bug-out bag, they will likely be very expensive; but for a stay-home kit, they can be as cheap as $40.
In fact, for about $20, a solar charger for rechargeable batteries (C, D, AA, AAA NiMH) can be added to your kit. These units take about six or eight hours in the sun to charge 4 AA batteries and a little longer for larger cells. With batteries they are relatively heavy, but still portable enough for most bug-out kits.
A more portable unit can be purchased for about $150-$200 that will charge a laptop or smart phone in three or four hours. These are about the size of a notebook computer and open up to reveal two panels. They have both a USB and standard cable outlet for 24v charging of many devices. They are portable enough to be put into a bug-out kit.
Larger units, sold as “solar briefcase” or “large panel” units, are not quite as portable but are still possible for short-distance hiking. These units sell for $100-$800 each, depending on their size and output, and can be used for camping, short-term outages, and emergencies. They generate from 13W to 120W and are capable of powering most simple communications devices (radios, cell phones, satellite phones, etc.).
Small, folding, portable solar ovens are also a must-have for any good 72-hour or emergency kit. These can cook a meal in very little time using only sunlight. They are easy to make yourself or can be purchased as a kit or ready-to-go setup for just a few dollars. The most elaborate (about $250) can be used for long-term cooking and survival as well. When the firewood isn’t available and the esbit pellets are gone, this oven will keep on cooking.
Solar for Long Term Needs
Large solar panels, mentioned above, can be used for somewhat portable, long-term needs. These can generate as much power as is needed to charge car batteries, power simple machinery, or provide lighting for a family. They can be large enough to power HAM and similar radio systems as well.
There are solar panel kits available to mount on boats, RVs, and other structures as well. These range from battery maintainers, which are small units that keep batteries charged during the day when not in use, to full panels that can provide power for the whole RV or boat and its occupants. These can cost a few hundred or a few thousand dollars.
An emergency or grid-destroying event doesn’t mean you have to be without power. It’s all a matter of having the right solar units and setup when needed.