The high cost of lightweight, amorphous silicon solar panels can be tough on budgets. After some research, I’ve found an American made solar briefcase which fits the bill.
Why we need it
We have seen far too many disasters, too many black/brown outs. Too many recent situations where the price of energy became an obstacle to our everyday lives. Imagine having unreliable grid energy, but being reliant on the grid for your personal well-being. It’s a little like playing Russian roulette. The flip side is the cost of an emergency power solution we can use at home, or take out to the field in a “bug out” or evacuate scenario. We agree we need it, but the cost quite often shuts down the discussion.
My goal was to create a 72 hours kit used to power any number of devices for that amount of time. A kit which could generally be used in my ham shack powering my comms gear. Alternatively, a kit deployed in-home or away from home, if for some reason that’s required. Perhaps the price of a kilowatt of electricity just spiked because another gas pipeline mysteriously exploded. Perhaps a winter storm wiped about power lines serving the local area, and we need to keep emergency lights charged, freezer running, or use an air compressor to make repairs. We can come up with many reasons for needing an emergency power supply. Grannies CPAP machine could be one! Whatever it is, it is better to have a renewable power supply, than not to have one and need one.
I came up with a few different component any system would need. Naturally, we would customize the system to our own needs. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution, so test, and do your research.
The core of my system is the Merlin Panther 100-watt solar kit. It includes:
- Merlin M100 100-watt solar briefcase
- Genasun GV10 charge controller
- All necessary cables
Merlin Panther 100 solar kit & Genesun charge controller:
Use coupon code “5forOH8STN” for some savings.
North America: https://sunforgellc.com/product/gv-10-m100-kit/
For battery storage, I use two different LiFePO4 batteries:
- 100ah Power Queen LiFePO4 battery
For the ham shack, the Power Queen 100ah LiFePO4 battery with BMS. This could also be moved or repurposed for another task if required. The 100ah LiFePO4 primarily runs my WInlink gateway, JS8Call station, and lighting in the ham shack. It is powered by 4 Genasun GV-10L charge cotrollwers, managing different strings of solar panels.
- PO4Power de GigaParts
The second battery has been on the channel before. It is a smaller 24ah LiFePO4 battery from PO4Power. It is sourced through GigaParts. Here’s the video.
The point of having two different batteries is simple. One can be charged, while the other is in use. Moreover, the solar panel doesn’t need to be permanently connected to one battery or the other. We simply attach the charge controller and solar panel to the system which needs the juice. Modularity is key here. I already have solar storage for the ham shack. I augment that solar storage with smaller batteries I can deploy for other tasks during a black or brown out.
Both of these batteries are budget friendly, unlike the original DIY LiFePO4 systems we built on the channel back in the day. We have come a very long way.
Merlin Panther 100-watt briefcase solar panel
This panel is manufactured in the United States. Hopefully this means something to you! It cranks out about 4.5 amps of current, mid-day, full sunshine. It boasts an efficiency of 22.5%, which is fair enough. It weighs in a 7.7lb or 3.5kg. Not a lightweight panel, but lighter than many others. In full sunlight, it works extremely well. On hazy days it does alright. Get some leaves falling on one of the panels and it suffers. This is the monocrystalline Achilles heal. Keep it clean and you’ll be alright.
The Merlin Panther 100 and Genasun GV-10L are a perfect combination for my chosen LiFePO4 batteries. Even using them in parallel with multiple strings of solar panels results in a better than expected system. During my testing period, I would often augment my home solar panels (for the ham shack) with the Merlin connected with its own charge controller. I’ve done this with PowerFilm panels before with good results. Perhaps I will buy a second Merlin Panther 100, connecting them to a single or dual parallel GV-10L charge controller setup. That is 200 watts for about half the price of the popular more portable options. This is ok if one doesn’t need to carry it on his/her back.
The cost of being budget friendly
What we gain in value, we loose in portability. The Merlin is a fine panel with great value. What it is not, is man-portable! The Merlin is a panel one would deploy from a car, an RV, and overland vehicle. It isn’t something one would carry by hand, very far. The PowerFilm man-portable panels normally seen on the channel are more costly, but extremely portable. I wouldn’t say these technologies compete! Rather, they compliment one another because they each serves a unique purpose. Great value, or ultra-portable. Either way, they are both well-made products, manufactured in the United States. I’m happy to have them both on the channel.
Power Queen batteries
This is the first Power Queen battery I have had in the ham shack, or on the channel. They are such excellent value, I keep waiting for something to go wrong. Nothing has gone wrong yet! In fact, I have delayed posting a video showing the Power Queen brand, simply because I wanted more time to get to know the brand.
I have punished this battery during testing. I have use it to run dual 4500 psi air compressors while powering my ham shack. I have used it to start our diesel burning Subaru Outback Boxer motor. I have connected multiple strings of solar panels to it, in tough mid-day sun, yet it keeps on working. At this point, I’d actually like to purchase several more to run them in parallel, to power the ham shack. 400 amp hours sounds about right for anything I would ever like to do in my man cave.
I’ve has the Power Queen battery for about 3 months now. I can’t promise how it will behave in the long run, but I can say so far, so good!
Power Queen LiFePO4 batteries in the video. Use coupon code: “JULIANOH8STN” for some savings.
Europe affiliate link: https://www.ipowerqueen.de/discount/JULIANOHSTN?ref=732d60
North America affiliate link: https://ipowerqueen.com/?ref=0q1c0pan
Finally, If you are interested in the air compressors used in the video to torture test the Merlin Panther 100, Genasun GV-10L, and LiFePO4 battery, here are the links, and full video from my @Arctic Airgunner channel.
I used an air compressor in the test because this is hard! Anything can power low power ham radio gear. Power a 4500 psi compressor while powering your ham radio gear and I’ll be impressed. In a grid down scenario, it won’t always be our comms gear we need to power. It could realistically be anything! So we need to build and test for the “anything” scenario.
Vevo is like a modern Sears and Roebuck. They seem to have absolutely everything in the catalogue. In fact, I just purchased a diesel heater from there. I’d like to see if it can keep the ham shack warm during the winter months. The electricity bill is just too much.
Vevor compressor used in the test: Code: “VVMH5%OFF” (5% off on all VEVOR products)
US site: https://s.vevor.com/bfQsvf
EU site: https://s.vevor.com/bfQrdK
DE site: https://s.vevor.com/bfQsuF
FR site: https://s.vevor.com/bfQsuR
That’s about enough rambling from me.
Enjoy the video.
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