By Aaron Hardy
When SHTF, the convenient things will be the first to go.
Electricity powered by fossil fuels, the kind that’s wired directly to the wall, is unreliable enough as it is – not to mention very easy to mess with. Not having to rely on the power grid is a good start for being prepared when the convenience of 21st-century life falls through – and that means solar power is the way to go.
I’m not saying we all have to invest thousands of dollars to install solar arrays on our roofs. Not only are they susceptible to the first bad hailstorm that rolls around, but that kind of investment assumes you’ll stay tethered to your home, which isn’t always practical.
But there are some solar-powered items that really do make sense to keep handy, whether you’re just suffering from a power outage or things have really gone south.
Here’s a list of some of the most practical solar items that’ll keep working as long as the sun is still shining.
Radio communication is more reliable than other forms like television or the internet, and a solar-powered radio is more reliable still. Getting yourself a radio that can be powered by the sun or a hand crank will make sure you’re always getting radio updates in case of power outages, bad weather, or any other sort of emergency.
Most solar-powered radios also come with an LED flashlight attached, able to be powered by a hand crank that generates electricity, which will also power the radio. With this redundant power system, solar-powered radio/flashlight combos are great to keep around in case of an emergency. Not only this, but the crank also acts as a small generator, often able to produce enough electricity to power something else—perhaps to charge a cellphone or a walkie talkie.
Although these types of radio can’t send radio signals, they do often come equipped with an SOS feature that’ll blare a loud alarm in case of emergency, broadcasting your position so that help can find you easily—all of which make solar-powered radio/flashlight/generator combos extremely useful to have at hand in a sticky situation.
A generator is always a good thing to own in case the power grid falters, and if gas and other fossil fuels are in short supply, you’ll be glad you chose a solar-powered generator.
The benefit to these is that many of them are highly portable, meaning you can take them with you in case you find yourself on the move, and they’re easy to set up and tend to charge quickly as long as there’s sunlight. Even the smallest solar-powered generators are made to hold enough juice to power communication devices, lights, fans, and other items you’ll need to survive. Having a durable solar-powered generator you can go off-the-grid for a couple of hours, save more energy and fuel. Also, a solar-powered generator can back you up when there is power interruption. Your Energy Blog is an excellent source for information on solar-powered generators, water pumps and more.
If you have room, say on the roof of your RV, you can purchase large solar panels to capture sunlight and power a larger generator for heavier-duty power needs. Having these spread out permanently will make your generator a sustainable power option no matter what happens.
If a whole generator and solar panel array is larger-scale than you’re thinking at the moment, no worries—a much smaller and extremely practical solar-powered device you’ll be glad to have at the ready is a solar-powered lantern.
Since LED lights can be very bright without needing so much power, solar-powered lanterns can be quite inexpensive and very useful when regular lights fail. Letting the lantern charge during the day will ensure that it’ll have plenty of power to light up in the dark, indoors or outdoors.
Most solar-powered lanterns have multiple functions, able to act as a lantern if you need it to light up a whole space, or a flashlight if you need to be able to direct it. Lightweight and compact, low-cost, and totally reliable as long as there’s sunlight, the solar-powered lantern is one emergency tool that it’d just be silly to go without.
Solar Camp Stove
Solar cookers are another smart thing to own in case traditional cooking methods aren’t an option. With one of these, as long as you’ve got sunlight, you can cook your food.
Cooking food isn’t just a matter of preference—it can be a matter of survival. Cooking food partially breaks it down, which means that it’s easier to digest; when you spend less energy digesting your food, you get more calories out of it. If food becomes a scarcity, then cooking it is absolutely vital.
If electricity and fossil fuels are also scarce, then cooking food with just the sun is also great for preserving energy for other electricity-dependent devices. A solar camp stove uses just sunlight and physics to capture enough heat to cook food without needing anything else. Orienting the reflective panels where they’ll bounce the most sunlight, you can use this type of heat-efficient stove to cook anything that’ll fit. When SHTF, it’ll be one of the most valuable things you own.
Finally, having a shower may not be the most vital thing during an emergency, but if you’re going to be without power for an extended period of time, you’ll definitely be grateful to have a solar shower.
Operated on a very simple system, solar showers hold water in a heat-capturing bag and keep it hot for when you need hot water. You can hang it and set the water to run out for you to stand under to clean yourself, or if you need hot water for another purpose, a solar shower holds several gallons—enough for whatever you need to use the hot water for. Hot water is great for cleaning, particularly if you’re trying to keep food and hands clean to avoid getting sick. But if you’ve been roughing it outdoors for a while, you’ll probably be wanting the water for exactly what it’s made for—to shower!
It’s never a good idea to forget that life as we know it is a fragile thing. Any number of emergencies might crop up at any time, from a deliberate attack on the power grid to a devastating natural disaster, and any number of things in between. The important thing is to stay prepared.
There aren’t too many things we can really rely upon. Hopefully, the sun is one that we can trust will remain steadfast – or at least, it’s a lot more reliable than the systems that humanity has set up.
Solar-powered items are great to have in a pinch since sunlight is about as reliable as we can hope for anything to be.
But no matter what happens, when things fall apart, as long as we’ve been smart and are aware of what might happen and what we can do to combat it, we can stay prepared and make the best of anything that may come.
Aaron Hardy is the editor of EcoPowerUp.com, where he reviews renewable energy solutions for the home. His goal is to educate people on the benefits of solar and wind power so that more people choose them over fossil fuel alternatives. In his spare time, Aaron loves camping, hiking, and working on his websites.
Re: solar-powered generators
Since it was mentioned that solar-powered generators might be a helpful defense in the event of an attack on the power grids (there are three), it needs to be understood that almost all of the solar generators on the market for civilians are NOT EMP-hardened. The only one that has an optional EMP-hardened feature available to us mere-mortal types comes from these people:
So what does that say about all the hyperventilating sales types promoting their solar generator systems while not breathing a word about their lack of EMP-hardening?
Re: solar cookers
While sufficient sunlight for solar cooking, water heating / boiling / distilling, etc is available (depending on your latitude) most of the year during part of most days, there are enough cloudy days, wintery days, and flat-out bad weather days that solar energy must regarded as a way to conserve what other power sources you can store or otherwise access. Some of the most interesting solar cookers have an electrical backup system built in so that if the sun clouds over or you need to cook after the sun goes down (or before it comes back up), you can cook via the built-in AC power system. One such US-made hybrid solar cooker is the SunFocus, made by a New York state company that used to be the dealer for a somewhat similar hybrid solar cooker from India called the Tulsi.
But for solar-only cookers, an easy online search for SOLAR COOKING or SOLAR COOKERS will yield a long list of relevant hits, of which these two provide a good beginning:
There are box cookers, panel cookers, parabolic cookers, fresnel lens cookers, double-wall vacuum-evacuated glass tube cookers, etc. Some are highly portable and backpackable (like the California-made “Copenhagen” panel cooker, or the Asian sourced umbrellas that unfold into a parabolic cooker); others are too large and/or heavy and are best suited for either at-home use or vehicle transport. Some are available at retail; some are DIY, and some are both. Take your choice of fast or slow cooking, burnt or savory. The variety is seemingly endless.
Consider also a backpacker solar panel set up. I use an Anker Powerport solar panel w/power core with various adapter cables for cell phones, handheld walkies, handheld ham radios, various rechargeable batteries/battery stations, etc. You can charge directly off the panel during sunlight hours or use the power core at night. Useful for camping trips in the meantime.
I live off grid.
1) The number one thing to have is a solar pump, or a 24v pump i can attach a panel to and move water around. I have enough spare parts to have five solar pumps working. Water is life, you need it to drink, to shower, to water the horses, and to water the garden. Ignore everything on that list if you don’t have a way to move water, you are toast.
2) I don’t understand what a solar generator is, but if you mean 4 panels bolted to the roof powering a battery bank that feeds an inverter so I can run a fridge, a tv, lights, a computer, power the uhf/ham radio, and do everything else you can do on grid power, then this is the next best thing to solar pumping water.
3) Make the solar power, and solar pumping systems different, trust me on that one. Make sure you have spare parts for when things break. Fit your house out with these things, fit your trailer out with these things. Everything else nice to have.
How about naming all these different solar tools and how they work and the differences?
This isn’t supposed to be a sales pitch – people can do their own research to find the tools that meet their needs. 🙂
Play a guitar or other instruments and don’t sing sad cowboy songs or country songs that have immoral lyrics. Use the law of Yahweh from the bible as your guide………. do good.
Despite my own enthusiasm for solar energy for many purposes I think it’s important to realize that not only is it not available at night but that sometimes the daytime sunlight will be overcast for several days at a stretch. The working concept then is that solar sometimes lets you conserve your stored resources of other fuel types such as propane, alcohol, wood, diesel or whatever. That should even include electric power which might be “sometimes” available. So how to think through that fuel “stretching” or conservation?
There’s a fascinating example from the army of India, some units of which are issued solar box cookers that have a built-in option of electric heating … for either manual switching over or automatic thermostatic switchover for cloud-over or nighttime use. (Mine came without the army camo paint job however, but the rest of the capability is identical.)
But suppose you have some mix of propane, alcohol, wood or even occasionally electricity available to some degree. Here’s one way to stretch those supplies considerably with solar. Learn what thermal cooking is — there are several cookbooks on Amazon to teach you plus multiple websites. It’s basically heating up two containers quickly. The simplest example for one or two people might be to heat up a thermos bottle from boiling water poured inside, and a regular cookpot with your food to be cooked placed inside so it can be brought up to cooking temperature via whatever heat source you have, whether that’s solar, propane, or whatever.
Once that food is brought up to temperature you transfer it over to the now-hot thermos container (quickly replacing the boiling water in it with your food), and cap that container so it can slow-cook the contents for however many hours are needed. (You can’t apply heat to the outside of a well-insulated thermos container of course.) The best thermos bottles these days are labeled with the THERMOS brand and claim to be able to keep contents hot or cold for up to 24 hours if needed. (Your recipe time needs will vary of course.) But if you need to cook for more people there are multiple brands of thermal cookpots on Amazon or eBay to choose from.
That way you get the nutritional benefits of slow cooking from the extremely short term application of heat from whatever variety of energy sources you have available … whether solar, propane, alcohol, wood etc or even electricity. And another benefit of thermal cooking is that once your initial heat application is completed, all the rest of the thermal cooking time (even if several hours are needed) can be done while on the move — easily if by vehicle, but by backpack if only a thermos bottle is needed).