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Camping Batteries at Home: Will It Work?

For many people, the current virus emergency is bringing up big questions about preparedness and how to take care of their needs at home when the unexpected hits. Where energy is concerned, you might be thinking of a small portable battery, with or without a little solar panel, to power some essentials. We’ve used a Goal Zero battery for a while and can share some thoughts.

Pointers when choosing and using a portable battery at home

When settling on an on-the-go solar and storage mini-system that you’ll mainly be using at home, you may want to consider both how you’ll need it to perform in an outage and what kind of use you’ll get out of it when the grid is working as normal. Conversely, if you want the ideal system to rely on in an extended outage, it may not make that much sense to imagine taking it camping or even to day-trip cookouts away from home, because of weight, for example.

From the perspective of preparing for an outage as best one can with a camping battery:

  • Get that 100W portable expanding solar “suitcase” – the smaller folding solar panel may not work fast enough for sending power to your battery during a typical day. By over-building your camping solar+storage combo, you will be more likely to get by on a cloudy day or a short winter day with fewer than the average 4 sun hours our area typically receives.
  • Get the longest extension cord, even if it’s a one-trick proprietary accessory and only goes to the battery you’re buying – so you can position the solar panel out in full, direct sunlight in the yard and have the battery safely up on the porch under an eave or overhang sheltered from any weather, for example.
  • Consider getting batteries that are chainable in a series of multiple units – for example Goal Zero Yeti can work in a chain of 3 – in case of a series of overcast days (which is currently in our region’s forecast as we publish this article) or in the event that your energy needs increase, like other people joining your party, using more lights at night, or increased cell phone use as you check for updates from authorities during a disaster.
  • Consider the battery’s chemical makeup – that is, whether you want a lithium ion type battery (which is lighter but requires an adapter kit to be recharged by your car engine if the power goes out and the solar panel breaks) or a lead acid battery (which is heavier but can be more readily recharged by your car engine) – If you only see yourself charging it from solar or the grid, not your car, keep an eye on the weight so you can easily re-position it around your yard, home or campsite often, or if you’ll have to carry it any considerable distance to where you plan to use it.

Here are a few more features we recommend you look for:

  • Ability to turn ports on and off through a wifi app or with buttons on the battery.
  • Ability to check level of charge, whether via an app or a digital indicator on the unit.
  • Make sure the battery box is rugged and doesn’t seem prone to breaking, and that the solar panel you get to go with it is in a hard aluminum frame.

Acknowledge the limitations of your camping battery system

These products have a lot going for them, but there are some constraints you may run up against if you’re really putting your camping battery through its paces. Keep these in mind, and where possible try to work within the bounds of what your battery can do, or consider upgrading to a permanent, complete photovoltaic solar energy system with battery storage like Tesla Powerwall:

  • Many types of portable battery will stop operating if an item that draws too much voltage is plugged in – look for a feature called “surge allowances” to get compatibility with a wider range of devices, but be ready to see the charge get sucked up quickly.
  • Even on a Goal Zero Yeti, some power ports are more efficient than others – to stretch your energy, avoid using the two AC outlets in favor of the USB, “cigarette lighter” jacks and the special proprietary Goal Zero branded lightning ports. And if you don’t see yourself using extension cords with those AC plugs, not that some big plugs may take up both plugs, meaning they’ll need to take turns.
  • Beware using a system this small to try to power a device that’s needed for health, like a CPAP machine, asthma nebulizer, or oxygen system, as user experiences regarding longevity vary as shared on Amazon reviews. You may be looking at needing multiple charged batteries so that you can switch over as they are depleted, and your solar module output may not be able to keep pace with your recharging needs – or using a conventional propane or gas powered generator, if the fuel cost and availability, sound and exhaust output, and maintenance aren’t detractors for you – see our related post that discusses this.

Wise operation can make all the difference with a portable battery

We probably don’t have to say this, but we will anyway: Try to force yourself to skip the non-essential uses of energy, and you will be able to get by with a smaller system that will be less likely to run out on you – resist the urge to playback that movie downloaded on your HBO GO app, conserve phone life by closing apps and turning off processes that are running in the background and push notifications for everything except maybe news alerts, switching off location services for apps that don’t relate to safety, and definitely controlling that itch to spin a Pokestop (you can do it!).

There are ways to take a little care even with your essential devices, to stretch your charge: Best bets are small but powerful LED lights – they’re safer than candles and they don’t run out. Consider only charging one person’s phone, to be used primarily for checking on important info and keeping in contact with a close circle of friends and family, the sump pump if water is a concern, and a small fan if it’s hot.

If you’re just looking for a solid means to charge your phone and other essentials, you’re probably covered with this kind of a set up. If you just want peace of mind that, while you might be really roughing it by our typical standards, you’d a least be connected and have some small lights in an emergency, you can expect to be happy with a portable battery.

Be encouraged that you’ll probably find this kind of equipment to be very beginner friendly, easy on your budget and you’ll have a quick turnaround from ordering to obtaining it to using it. If you might be on the move in an emergency scenario, to join friends or family somewhere else or in the event your home is damaged, a portable system that packs into your car is going to make sense.

But while it could run a very small mini fridge to keep some food items cool in summer heat, we wouldn’t tell you it’s going to replace a gas burner, propane grill, or good old fashioned fire pit for cooking.

Or, opt for a full-size, permanent solar panels and storage system

At the end of the day, the best you can do with a camping battery is going to be a bit of an on-the-fly, cobbled together smattering of devices. It’s really only going to work with small and portable things, and it’s going to take a lot of hands-on upkeep. For an automated system that really works with the permanent appliances and fixtures in your home, a real solar energy system with battery backup is the way to go.

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Happy Ipsun Tesla Powerwall customers

If you’ve read this and realize you’re ready to dedicate your roof or a substantial patch of ground to a permanent solar installation for 25-40 years, that’s a great decision. You want your investment to pay for itself in utility savings, and/or enable substantial in-home energy use in a grid outage, or to achieve maximum offset of your utility energy. That’s exactly what solar and storage offer.

When you’re envisioning a complete home and vehicle integrated system, that can be monitored via smartphone, we want you to get the solution that you deserve, so let’s move you forward. Get in touch with our solar experts today to learn more about your home’s options for solar and battery storage.


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