Backup power for when the grid goes down or you have to bug out should be an important part of everyone’s prepping plan. For some, that power supply might be more important than others, especially those with medical conditions. Those might be people on dialysis, CPAP machines, or any other health-related electrical pieces of equipment. Then, there’s the obvious short-term food storage issue we think about relating to our refrigerators and freezers. Long-term uses might include recharging batteries, running Ham radio equipment, et cetera.
Real Options For Backup Power
For many years, the only real option for backup power was to either go off-grid completely or have a backup gas generator. While some people might have a liquid propane backup house generator, a lot of people, especially those on natural gas, may not see that as an efficient option. We all know the downsides to gas generators. Those concerns include fuel storage, loud noise, odorous exhaust, and necessary outdoor operation. There is also the maintenance issue of starting it up periodically and ensuring the seals are still in good shape.
Solar Generators, A Viable Option
In the last several years though, solar generators have become a much more viable option. A majority of the cons associated with gas generators are not factors with solar generators, including fuel storage, which is no longer (although you may want to store gas for other applications). Solar generators are virtually silent, with the exception of some that emit a soft hum. There is no exhaust or other byproduct, and they can be used indoors in a safe and protected environment.
A Review of Aspect Solar Power Rack 1500 Watt Generator
I recently acquired an Aspect Solar Power Rack 1500 watt generator and put it through its paces. After doing a general overall impression of the unit, I ran an endurance test, a spike test, and a mobility test for communication equipment. I’m hoping this review will help others decide if it’s a good choice for them.
Weights and Measures
The generator weighs a reasonable 44 lbs. While not overly heavy, it is light enough to move around and to be mobile if needed. It measures approximately 18 inches on each side.
The unit came with three 60-watt solar panels that can be chained together for a total of 180 watts. You can use the supplied panels, but separate 300-watt panels can be purchased for faster charging time. The unit appears to be solid and well built.
Power Output and Input
For power output, it has two universal AC plugs, two cigarette style DC plugs, two USB ports, and a power pole adapter. For power input, it has an AC adapter so that it may be plugged in directly to the wall. It also has the DC plugs for the solar panels as well as a power pole adapter. The generator also has a pure sine inverter for converting the stored DC power to AC power.
The Battery, One of the Most Important Features
One of the most important features is that the battery is a lithium phosphate battery. This type of battery should minimize any ‘memory” effects and should be good for several thousand charges. Once fully charged, the unit should hold up to 90% of its charge during a year’s storage.
Test Number One
Test number one was a simple fan test. I fully charged the unit using the AC adapter, which took approximately eight hours. I ran a window fan during the night. This unit should have been a simple load with no spiking going on as one would see with a refrigerator or freezer.
While some might see running fans as a luxury, I see it more as a necessity on hot nights. When the house warms up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, I want it to cool down for two simple reasons: 1) the cooler it is, the better I’ll sleep and I’ll need that sleep more than ever to stay sharp, and 2) the cooler I am, the less water I’ll need to consume to stay hydrated. Like all of our supplies, water may have to be rationed. Besides the obvious effects of being dehydrated, a long term effect can be kidney stones. Kidney stones in a SHTF scenario are definitely debilitating and could possibly be deadly.
The generator ran fine. The fan ran for approximately 12 hours and used about 1200 kWh (kilowatt hours). There were no hiccups, and the fan ran just like it was running off of AC power.
Recharging the Generator
The following day, I recharged the generator using the solar panels. With the three 60-watt panels chained together, I was able to charge the generator to about 40%. One of the downsides to this generator is that it shows stored power in battery symbols. Five filled battery symbols means full charge. It took a total of three days to fully charge the generator. Some of this time was my error in learning the optimal angle to place the panels. I also learned that a solar day is approximately six hours. A solar day is the amount of time actually getting a decent charge through the solar panels.
Test Number Two
After fully recharging the generator, my next test (Test Number Two) was to run it on the upright freezer that I keep in my garage. The temperatures outside were reaching into the mid 80’s, and the garage warmed up to the upper 80’s. The generator handled the freezer with no problems. The generator is rated to spike up to 3000 watts. After 12 hours, the generator was near empty though, so I unplugged it and started the recharging process. While running on the solar generator, the freezer ran just like it was plugged into the wall.
I then attempted to recharge the generator again. This time the recharge process took approximately two full days. This was due to better placement of the panels based on the angle of the sun.
One important factor I considered while recharging was operational security of the generator and panels. If I left them in the backyard to recharge, I would need to stay there to ensure they weren’t stolen. However, due to the portable nature of the panels and the generator, I was able to use a second story bedroom. Outside the window is the roof to our patio. I placed the panels on the roof of the patio and left the generator inside the bedroom. This configuration allowed me to have a moderate level of security and freed me up to do other chores.
Final Test, On a Road Trip
For my final test, I took the solar generator on a road trip with me to simulate a bug out scenario. I was able to keep all my necessary electronics running for over four days and still had half my charge on the generator. Additionally, I was able to place the solar panels on the roof of my parked truck camper shell, and no one knew they were there. From ground level, there was no sign I was recharging anything as I ran the cable into the truck bed where the generator was stored through the window located between the cab and the camper shell. I had quiet, portable power that I could take with me anywhere and that produced very little visibility or security concerns.
The overall performance of generator is on par with the listed specs. Both surging of compressors starting and the constant power drainage caused it no problems. The generator was absolutely silent, and I was able to place the recharging panels in a relatively secure location.
Downsides To Solar Generators
Based on my tests, I see two downsides to the solar generators.
Lower Power Capacity
The first is the lower power capacity. At 1500 watts, the Aspect Solar Generator is one of the higher capacity units. It can only reasonably handle one appliance for approximately 12 hours before it needs to be recharged.
Recharging is the second negative. Using the supplied panels, it takes me almost two full days to get a full charge on the generator, and that is based on clear skies during the summer in Southern California. To make the unit more efficient, I would recommend acquiring a 300-watt panel, which I plan to do. Hopefully, this will charge the unit in one day as opposed to two days.
Recommend This Unit For Urban and Suburban Preppers
Even with the obvious negatives listed above, I would definitely recommend this unit, especially for urban or suburban preppers. At 44 lbs, the unit is easy to move around and can be kept right next to the item using electricity. The generator is absolutely quiet and no one will hear it. Gas generators in my area can be heard running one to three blocks away, depending on the gas generator. Even a quiet Honda generator can be heard from some distance when the city background noise is gone. There is no need to use gasoline for the solar generator, which allows you to save that fuel for other uses– on the vehicle, for barter, et cetera.
While some people might think that the presence of solar panels might be an issue, they are common place in Southern California, especially full-size panels. Mounting a full-size 300-watt panel to a house won’t draw any unwanted attention.
Final Words of Advice
Here are some final words of advice. Before investing in a solar generator, do your research on solar panels in general. It will help you decide if this is a good option for you and if any reasonable upgrades will be needed to make the unit most effective.
Things To Consider
Some things to consider are how many watts you need to run (both continuous and surge), where you place the panels in relationship to the generator, and remember that generally speaking, peak energy gathering is about six hours a day based on the angle of the panels in relation to the sun. Also, consider making your own solar generator. Panels, controllers and batteries are all easily acquired online these days.
Faraday Cage To Store Unit and Penels
And for those whose prepping plans include EMP’s or solar flares, I’d recommend constructing a Faraday cage to store the unit and panels. Not only will that create a convenient one-piece storage unit, but it will allow you to keep the unit hidden and protected.
Put New Equipment Through Its Paces
And one final prepping note in general follows. When acquiring new equipment, you should quickly put your new equipment through its paces and determine if the equipment will work as you expected. Buying an expensive piece of equipment only to find out it didn’t work the way you hoped could be devastating when the grid is actually down.