Man Portable Off Grid Power for Amateur Radio Part 1

Episode notes

Hello Operators
Continuing the series on portable power for ham radio , we turn our attention to portable, packable solar power.  A few months ago, I ordered the PowerFilm F15-1200 solar panel as an migration away from the Goal Zero Nomad panels I used previously. It was my hope that the PowerFilm panels would prove to be a better investment, as a lightweight & rugged puzzle piece in my portable ham radio power strategy.

We started the series last year by building a lightweight lithium ion battery pack. Later on we integrated that lithium ion battery pack into our solar powered go kit for ham radio. After that we built our own 10 amp hour lithium iron phosphate battery pack for extended field communications. Now our point is keeping it all charged up in the field.

So, in this video we are discussing the PowerFilm F15-1200 Solar panel. We’ll be field-testing it along with the DIY 10Ah lithium iron phosphate battery pack from my previous video. Finally, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of the PowerFilm panels over other variants.
The video can be viewed here:

The next video in the series will be another DIY battery build. This will be a 5Ah LiFePO4 pack based on A123 25560 format cells.
Julian oh8stn

It’s been a long hard and sometimes expensive road getting to this point with my man portable comms gear. Primarily traveling overland, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, … the weight of my gear is directly related to how far I can travel. More weight, reduced range, it really is that simple.

Man Portable field communications requires power once you get there. In the old days that was a 10w solar briefcase and SLAB. Later on a pair of Goal Zero Nomad 7 panels and bespoke NiMH battery pack. After that, a bespoke 4S1P Li-ion battery which could be simultaneously charged and discharged. Now I’ve arrived at the PowerFilm F15-1200 on route to my lightweight, ultra-portable destination.

To justify the cost of the PowerFilm, I look at it in terms of what the panel can do for my field communications.

Here are a few points.

  • Reduces the weight of my gear loadout.
  • Offers significantly more power generation per gram/ounce than my previous panels.
  • Can be punctured or damaged in some way without becoming completely useless.
  • Takes no space in my pack.
  • Excellent after-sales support.
  • Excellent global distributor

The PowerFilm F15-1200, is just one puzzle piece to putting together an ultra-portable power station for field communications. In the coming weeks and months we’re going to put those pieces together on the channel.

Here’s what I’m going to include:

  • Lightweight, Man Portable Off Grid Solar Power
  • Bespoke  lightweight 10A Battery pack
  • RF quiet solar charge controller
  • Fused Powerpole distribution box
  • All built into a small Pelican/Pelicase

One of my Instagram followers asked me;

 “Why not use commercial batteries like the Tracer, QRP Ranger, or Goal Zero Sherpa 50/100 with the Power film panels?“.

When we’re talking about field communications, micro Expeditions, disaster Communications, … our ability to understand the gear we use, and repair it if it goes wrong, is essential to an effective field deployment. Moreover bespoke building will give you an opportunity to build the Pack with the features that you need, and to the specifications that you require. I don’t think I could build the PowerFilm panel better than they can. Or a better charge controller than some of those used on modern sailing yachts. However, I can definitely build a better battery, with greater capacity, built to withstand my own rugged requirements better than Goal Zero or Hardened Power Systems can for the same money. 

I want a system that’s going to last me 3 years of extreme field deployment and micro expeditions. If I buy the right components and bespoke build the rest to my standards in the first place, my gear is going to last a lot longer, and be more reliable then something made with cheap parts from China. 
Value not Price!

The first step is the solar panel. After that we’re going to move to a larger battery pack with greater capacity, and capable of powering 100 watt radio. Then we’re going to marry the solar panel and the bespoke battery pack with a battery management system to keep the cells happy, and an RF quiet solar charge controller, to keep the battery topped up. Finally we’re going to mount everything neatly inside a Pelican case, before wiring up the distribution panel and breakout box.
I’ve created a YouTube playlist to support this series. Ironically, I built a proof-of-concept battery last autumn and routinely use it in my qrp micro expeditions. That’s the first video in the playlist.

Portable Off Grid Solar Power for Amateur Field Comms:

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