Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Solar Solution

My next trip is going to be a bit more off the beaten path with lots of opportunities to photograph star trails all night and animals and landscapes all day in battery draining cold weather.  A challenge for any camera battery to be sure.  Add in the fact we'll be camping and our vehicles are going to be horses... well, I needed a light weight solution to keep the power going! 

I'm glad that I actually started planning well in advance of my trip on this one.  There always seems to be one crucial piece that the manufacturers sell separately and never tell you that you'll need which inevitably leads to a rush order.  Rush avoided and products tested!  It works!

My solution:
Brunton Solo 7.5
PowerFilm F15-1200 20 Watt
RA-1 Male Cigarette Lighter Adaptor
Nikon MH-21 Quick Charger for EN-EL4 & EN-EL4a batteries

Brunton Solo 7.5 Amp
PowerFilm F15-1200 20 Watt

The missing piece: RA-1 Male Cigarette Lighter Adapter

The Brunton Solo acts as my power storage.  I could leave it at home and use the solar panel with the inverter to trickle charge my batteries during the day, however, if we have a cloudy day, the battery will likely never charge fully.  Using the Brunton Solo I'll be able to leave the solar panel set up and collect the power it generates for charging later in the evening. Today was a mostly sunny California day and I was able to fully charge the Brunton Solo with the Solar Panel despite the wind closing half the panel for an unknown length of time. Tent pegs or rocks will prevent that from being a problem in the field.  From the power I collected I was able to recharge my camera battery and have plenty of power left over to charge my iPhone and iPad so my tunes in the wild will be uninterrupted!

While this set up works for me you should do some research as there are larger and smaller versions of these units depending on your power/weight needs.

Set up to charge
Solo feeding charger through the inverter

The complete set up weighs in at less than 5 pounds.

Product websites:


Tim Norman said...

Great solution. I've been pondering the idea of an away from normal electricity trip for a while. One of the things I always thought would hinder me was the electricity needed to charge the batteries.

I've always heard that solar just didn't put out the power that was necessary to charge even a cellphone for regular use. I hadn't thought of dribbling the charge to a battery and then using that to charge what I needed. 20Watts doesn't seem like much output though, but please let us know how it works out. Do you have a backup solution like a portable hand generator or something that you mechanically run in case this solution dies in the cold weather as most batteries tend to do?

Dave C said...

Sweet. Now I'd really love to go along with you. I've wanted the excuse for this kind of setup for ages. It's a shame you still can't skip the inverter stage.

Rebecca Jackrel said...

Thanks for the comments!

Tim: I've heard the same re: solar charging but the technology has come a long way in the past few years. 20Watts might not seem like a lot but it is doing quite well with my tests. There are larger wattage panels out there, I just went with the minimum size/weight that would get me through. I'll have 4 batteries total with me so if the system fails I'll still be able to tackle my primary subject. I still don't know any portable generators that are back-packable but if you find one... let me know! ;)

Dave: I'd love to skip the inverter too but unless the battery charger can run off a cigarette adapter plug I still need it.