With the threat of blackouts that might be caused by an energy crisis, I'm eyeing off the camping gear and wondering what it would really be capable of achieving if I needed to call it into action at home, and how long of a blackout it could sustain me through.
First up is keeping the home office powered up. Actually, in terms of power outages I have already used my deep-cycle battery and the in-car charger for my laptop to keep it, and my phones (both work and personal), running before, but fortunately I only needed them for a few hours so there was no need to also connect a solar panel and controller to keep that 12V battery charged.
Running the LAN cable into said laptop bypasses the need for powering the WiFi router, or the phone's hotspot works (if your data plan is up to it) when you're actually travelling (assuming that the flow of data from either isn't affected as well).
We'll come back to electricity in a moment though. For cooking (and perhaps hot water), I'm looking at the small portable gas stove that runs on butane cans (it's handy when you want to pack very light) and remembering how quickly they get consumed, and then I remember the portable two-burner barbecue and start thinking I really should do something about the gas bottle for it.
For heat, at any hillclimb motorsport event I've camped at during winter there's been a camp fire, or several, with people gathered around. Alternatively, some people take a small portable pot belly stove with them. And at home I've kept the fireplace to use on the colder nights and as a back up, so that's essential heat sorted (as long as I keep some firewood and kindling here as well).
Getting back onto powered gear, I've wanted a 12V camp fridge for a while and there are different shapes to choose from, whether it's chest, drawer, bar, or just a smaller version of what most homes have. I need a chest of no more than 50L, but for a caravan you can get up to a 200L upright fridge and freezer which only uses 75W (they can be expensive, but worth it when efficiency is the priority). And the good portable chest and drawer fridge/freezers use only that much or less.
That brings us to power consumption. The conversion for Watts (power) to amps (current), and back, is pretty simple. Volts times amps equals Watts. So 12V at 3A is using 36W.
Or, Watts divided by volts equals amps. So 48W and 12V means it draws 4A.
My laptop will recharge itself, and a phone, and run a 5W USB desk lamp, from just a 50W power supply. The second monitor I can continue working without, but it's actually a small flat TV like you could use in a caravan so it accepts a 12V source directly and the rating says it consumes a maximum of 40W.
There are other USB and 12V gadgets and toys (powered directly or rechargeable) that are handy on the road as well, from heated mugs and kettles to torches and AA/AAA (or other sizes) chargers and more.
As for harnessing that power without running a vehicle, most camping solar panels are capable of no more than 200W from one square metre of surface area in full sun (when new). That also means there are dodgy suppliers making wild claims about small panels that cannot be based in truth, but that seems to be a widespread disease with any specs for all sorts of electronic goods, especially from cheap online sellers (I'm looking at you eBay, but you're not the only culprit).
Even on a big camper, that need for surface area would put a limit on how much recharging you can get from just the sun while parked somewhere for an adventure.
Controllers are also not 100 per cent efficient (and you need one to protect the battery from overcharging, excess discharging, or the panels draining it in the dark). PWM units only make a bit more than 70 percent of the panel's power available. A genuine MPPT controller is more than 90 per cent efficient though so that's the better option.
Anyway, my controller claims it's fine for up to 1300W from the panels and that it will put up to 100A into a battery bank (with all the panels it can handle sitting in full sun), so if you do have close to 7 square metres available, and enough batteries to safely absorb it as well as not run them too low at night (which would shorten their lifespan substantially), you'd have plenty of options.
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