Thursday, August 22, 2013

Getting Mobile Power In An Emergency

It could happen. Your power could go out. A meteor could hit. Freak ice storm. Who knows. That's why it's called disaster preparedness; because you don't necessarily know what you are preparing for, other than you know what your basic needs will be. One thing most people need to function but often overlook is a method to charge their devices in an emergency.

Waka Waka Power Solar Charger and Lantern: Charging a Smartphone
Waka Waka Power: Product Link

12V Power Sources

A 12V outlet normally takes the form of a so-called cigarette lighter. Devices and chargers that can use 12V have the big, telltale plug on one side and usually a DC in plug in the case of chargers, and a micro USB port in the case of modern electronics.

Examples of devices you can plug into a 12V power source are:

1. Power inverter to give you power for any household appliances and chargers you only have with 110V house plugs.

2. Battery chargers like my Nitecore i4 which can plug into a cigarette lighter plug directly.

3. USB widgets which allow you to plug in 5V USB devices.

4. Older devices such as phones, tablets and GPS which have their own dedicated 12V plug. My Acer tablet for example, came with a 12V charger instead of a USB charger, and I can't seem to find the right plug for it to charge from one of my USB chargers.

Vehicle 12V

The first and best mobile power source most people have is their car. It's basically a rolling power generator. Depending on how much gas you have, your car could supply you with emergency power for weeks or even months. It's useful being able to charge your phone from your car, and it's very useful to be able to charge universal USB devices, but it's supremely useful to have a power inverter, which will let you plug standard 110V appliances and devices into your vehicle. Now you can power your TV!

Portable 12V

There are lots portable 12 V devices out there, such as uninteruptible power supplies (UPS), jump start boxes and tire inflators. I happen to have a tire inflator with a 19 amp hour battery. And using the same power inverter or USB widget I would use for the car, I can harness the charge in the tire inflator for anything I want. And unlike my car, the tire inflator fits in my tent. I could also plug a USB dongle into my tire inflator and charge my kindle inside my tent.

Campbell Hausfeld 12 Volt Tire Inflator And Power Supply
Campbell Hausfeld 12 Volt Tire Inflator And Power Supply

Household 110V

In an emergency, you probably won't have city power, which would be one of the reasons it's an emergency in the first place.

Portable 110V

400 Watt Inverter Charging My Laptop
400 Watt Inverter Charging My Laptop

Your source of 110V in an emergency is either going to be via a generator or an inverter. Generators are nice, but they are bulky and so is the fuel. If you are stationary, or have a large RV or vehicle, this might be feasible. Another problem with generators is that they don't store power for later. You get a stream of power and anything not used by your devices is wasted, gone forever.

Inverters aren't very efficient, but they work for most devices. They work by converting DC to AC, so you definitely don't want to use it for something like a battery charger if it can use something else like 12V or USB. This is because to plug an AC USB charger into your inverter, it has to convert DC->AC->DC which is very wasteful. You are much better off plugging a USB widget into your cigarette lighter plug instead of the inverter.

USB 5V Chargers

Most modern mobile electronics these days take a 5V USB port, and there are lots of ways to get that for your devices.

1. There are 110V USB wall chargers, though again, it is an inefficient way to get a USB plug if you are going through an inverter, and should be used only as a last resort.

AC 110 Volt USB Charger

2. A 12V USB widget can plug into your car or portable 12V device's cigarette plug and give a 5V USB plug to your devices. This is one of the most efficient and easiest ways to charge your phone during an emergency.

12 Volt USB Charger

3. We have lots of USB battery packs that are based on lithium-ion batteries, and store a tremendous amount of power, usually in the range of 12 to 13 amp/hours. They are a little heavy but very compact. Just a couple of these in my back pack, and now I can charge my phone for a month in an emergency, or if I just don't feel like taking it to a wall charger.

Ruinovo Battery Pack Charging Android Phone
Charging my Android Phone
Ruinovo 4x18650 battery pack
Ruinovo 4x18650 battery pack
Ruinovo Battery Pack Charging 1st Gen Kindle Fire
Charging 1st Gen Kindle Fire
Ruinovo Battery Pack Charging Two AAA NiMH Batteries
Charging a couple AAA NiMH batteries

4. Another variation is the solar USB battery pack, like my Waka Waka and lots of cheap alternatives as shown below. With one of these, suddenly you have a way of charging your phones, tablets, headphones and other devices when nothing else has power.

Waka Waka Power slung from my SwissGear backpack
Waka Waka Power slung from my SwissGear backpack
Waka Waka charging an HTC One
Waka Waka charging an HTC One
Cheap solar charger I paid about $20 for
Cheap solar charger I paid about $20 for
Another twist on the power pack is that they can charge each other. When needed, you can move power around between different packs and devices. For example, I could use a power pack to charge my Waka Waka (which is itself a power pack) in order to use its built in lantern. And I routinely use the solar chargers like the Waka Waka in order to top off my dedicated power packs.

Ruinovo Battery Pack Charging Another Battery Pack

5. Yet another last ditch USB power source is the little crank flashlight/radio/charger made by Duracell. It's a lot of cranking just to talk on the phone, but it can be invaluable as a last ditch backup. Not to mention it has a built in flashlight and AM/FM/Weather radio. And theoretically at least, it can charge all your USB power packs to store some of the energy from all that cranking for later.

Duracell Hand Crank Emergency Light, Radio and USB Mobile Power

6. There are hybrid chargers/packs that let you charge a battery and then use it as a power pack for other devices. Some power packs can be used in this role as well since they have a battery compartment which pops open. For example, I can charge a power pack, pop it open, and take one of the 18650 lithium-ion batteries out, and use it in one of my flashlights. Some of these lights will give me 100 hours on low, so with 4 batteries, yeah, that's a lot of light.

Hybrid 18650 Charger And Power Pack

7. And lastly, they make some nifty USB AA/AAA chargers. Being able to easily charge AA and AAA batteries in an emergency is yet another great capability. I still have lots of devices which take these common batteries that I would want to use in an emergency, like walkie talkies and hiking GPS units. And flashlights, of course. In an emergency, you can be certain our house will have light. If it puts out power, I can make light out of it.

USB AA And AAA Charger

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