Providing For Your Family During Power Outages – Part 2, by B.S.V.

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Unfortunately, there isn’t a good level of sun available during heavy rains. We were also beginning to lose sunlight so solar wouldn’t be all that helpful even if the skies were clear. Evaluating the EB70S powering the television, I could see that it was going to lose power overnight. We didn’t need it for information any longer, but as we were still trapped inside from significant rain, it was now our primary source of entertainment. Of course, in a dire situation we could ration that power consumption to make it last multiple days – potentially over a week – by turning the television on strategically and using it only for information gathering. This wasn’t that dire, so we splurged in this aspect.

Just to be clear, I have a 100 watt panel for my EB70S and on a clear day with good sun, we could probably support the television indefinitely. We wouldn’t necessary spend our resources like that, but solar is my long-term preferred solution since it is relatively sustainable. Separately, I have over 700 watts of solar panels for the AC500, so we could hold out in that configuration for a while – with sun. But we had no sun.

This brings us to Phase Three. Phase Three activates when any power box drops to 40% and the strategy is to set up a long-term recharge of power boxes.

As I mentioned, solar would be my preferred method of maintaining charge in the power boxes. Since that was denied us, we moved to Phase Three, Alternate One. I dragged out my generator. This is a Westinghouse, electric start generator with 7000 running watts and 8000 starting watts which I had purchased a few years back, second hand. Usually, it was used for big power consumers like welding or hand-held plasma cutting away from electricity. I use it often enough that it stays maintained – a new carburetor and a new battery for the self-start and oil changes are really all it has needed in the five or six years I’ve owned it.  As this was the first time I had needed to use Phase Three, I learned some strategies in case we need to use it again.

The AC500 charged off the generator very well. It charged at just under 1,750 watts which means that it could charge in less than two hours if it was completely depleted. Since it wasn’t completely depleted and it was also running the refrigerator and freezer, it took about an hour and fifteen minutes to get from 40% to full. The EB70S was not as great. It is a great device, just a bit slow-charging. It can only charge at 200 watts, tops. With a 716Wh battery, it takes over three hours to charge from dead to full, and that is without running a television. I hooked both up to the generator and they charged fine without taxing the genny at all.

Here is where some strategy comes in. Since the AC500 charged at a dramatically higher speed than the EB70S, I should have run the generator to the AC500 and then charged the EB70S from the AC500. It wouldn’t have saved time, but it would have saved fuel. Since fuel is the non-sustainable resource here, and there would have been enough power for the AC500 to do its job overnight even if the EB70S needed a full charge, the daisy chain would have been more economical. As a worst case, if the AC500/B300S combo had needed to be topped off, it still would have been more economical to do that than run the generator almost twice as long for the lower charge-rate device.

That night, the humidity settled in. The temperature, thankfully, wasn’t too bad – in the 80s in the house – but the humidity was relentless at about 96%. That makes it very difficult to sleep, so we broke out our fans. Watching television, my wife and I had out our own little USB powered 4″ fans. The only brand I have, so the only brand I can recommend is called Sweetfull. I run one of these almost nine months out of the year (my portion of Texas is humid and moving air is about the only way I stay cool.) I use it to cool off when coming in from yard work, or just to keep the air moving on those evenings that are cool enough that the air conditioner doesn’t kick on and stir the air. It is perfect for a little personal comfort on the average day. A while back, I got another power box at Costco. This one was made by Duracell, but it looks like they don’t sell it anymore so I won’t give the model number. The Sweetfull fan has three settings. I usually just use the lowest setting. On that setting, it pulls less than a watt. The Duracell is a 500Wh box. With that combo, I only need to recharge the Duracell about every five months, seriously.

With the humidity that night, one fan wasn’t doing it. Not well enough to allow sleep. We eventually shifted things around and I used both of the Sweetfull fans and my wife used an AC-based oscillating fan off the EB70S powering the TV. Those two Sweetfull fans, on the medium setting, flickered back and forth at about 1 watt of power draw. That’s pretty amazing efficiency. In the end, it wasn’t the best night’s sleep, but with this set up, we did get sleep.

That AC fan consumed considerably more power than the USB powered fan, so the EB70S needed another charge from the AC500 in the morning. Thankfully, around 11:00 in the morning, electricity was restored and we were able to go back to ‘condition green’.

Some of the Lessons Learned that may be of interest to you:

First – as referenced above, an appropriate charging strategy, especially when using consumables like fuel should be planned out so that the least amount of consumables will be used.

Second – know your after-action plan. For me, it included charging everything back up. That is where I found one of the strangest circumstances. When I charge the EB70S with solar and the sun goes down so there is no charge and no load, it times out and shuts down. In this manner, it doesn’t bleed off power. The AC500 didn’t do that. I left it connected to the solar panels and once the sun set, it stayed ‘active’ though I had both the AC and DC systems shut off. So there was no charge and no load, but still the unit bled off power as if the AC inverter was still on. This basically means that I shouldn’t leave it plugged into solar to keep it topped off for immediate use, which is a bit confusing and frustrating. They recommend storing the device with an 80% charge. Still it only takes my opinion of the product down from a five-star review to a 4.7 star review. I contacted Bluetti support and they confirm it is working as designed. Hopefully they’ll design the next version differently.

Third – cooling is important. Our little four inch fans were great for what they are. What they are is just not up to the challenges we may face in the future. We’re looking at getting some larger USB-powered fans.

Fourth – air conditioning is important. I know that I talked about cooling above, but air conditioning is more than cooling. It is also dehumidifying. The combination of the two is what really makes the impact. Even if we had much cooler temperatures, lower humidity would have made for a more restful night’s sleep. The hunt is on for a low-power cooling option, but this one is going to be a bit harder than just upgrading USB fans.

Fifth – lighting. We have enough flashlights, work lights, lamps and headlamps, oil lamps, candles, etc.  that my wife considers me an illumination hoarder. Even with the volume of light I can create, the quality of light suffers. Most of the light sources I have are LEDs. Only recently have LED lights gotten into the ‘warmer’ ranges. What I have is fairly stark, ‘cold’ lights. They are fine for short duration tasks, but not really great for just sitting and enjoying one another’s company. Give it a try yourself. Set up your emergency lighting one night and try to play cards or a board game. See if that is what you want for an extended period of time. We are thankful to have what we have. Just while we have time to take action, we may as well consider it. I’m going to be looking into what can be done with newer low-power lighting.

Sixth – backup power. What we have – the EB70S, the AC500 and B300S, even the Duracell and some of the flashlights – is expensive. We are incredibly blessed to have what we have. I had a job that gave nice bonuses and we put them to work for us. Unfortunately, that job is in my rearview mirror and we’re living on a bit more modest means. Maybe I should do another article on how to get by during a 10-month layoff. I say this to clarify that though what we have is costly, we don’t have an endless supply of money and we certainly didn’t get everything we have all at one. It takes a while to prepare, but it is possible. Part of money management is prioritizing the things that matter and maybe giving up a little luxury in the good times to have a little sustainability in the bad. In that vane, my wife and I are now discussing whether saving for a whole-house backup system may be worth giving up some luxuries in the near future.

I hope this article has helped shed some light on challenges you may face in a prolonged power outage and a few potential solutions, as well as how to develop a multi-tiered approach. I think those of us who have gone through minor situations can give a lot of targeted feedback so that those of us preparing for even larger situations have the information we need. Keep sharing and putting one foot in front of the other.