Electricity is King in most households, whether we notice it or not. You’re reading this on a screen powered by electricity, or else printed on an electric printer. There’s probably at least a few lights on in your home, and perhaps a hair-dryer in your daily routine, or a coffee maker you couldn’t live without!
While electricity isn’t usually necessary for survival, it certainly makes just about everything easier, quieter, faster, and cleaner. But what are we to do when things go dark? Anything from a car hitting a power pole to a solar flare, to a major blizzard or earthquake can cause outages that last anywhere from a few hours to over a week.
There are two ways to prepare for an extended outage: Build an emergency kit that doesn’t rely on power (think back country camping) and go without the conveniences you are used to, OR add a generator to your preparedness plan. Both work, but today we’re going to focus on the generator option.
Generators come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes with a huge range of power and different types of fuel. What do they all have in common? They create electricity quickly and without being connected to the power grid. Many generators can even be connected to your home to directly power your usual circuits – talk about convenience!
This power can be used for smaller things (i.e. the aforementioned blow dryers and coffee makers) or for major must-haves like medical devices, refrigeration, or a sump pump to keep the basement from flooding. At Total Prepare, we have a special place in our hearts for emergency items that can pull double duty during our day to day lives and generators do not disappoint. Take one camping to watch movies in your tent, or bring one to the work site to keep power tools charged.
Solar VS Gas
The two most popular types of generators are solar powered units, and ones that run on gasoline. Both have their pros and cons, but for us, solar power wins every time. Why? Lots of reasons!
Solar power is renewable too, which is great for the environment, but it’s also great for emergencies where replacing your fuel stores may not be an option. Pop some panels into the sunshine and recharge without fumes, noise, mess, or fuss. Heck – you may as well set up the lawn chair beside them and catch some rays yourself.
Electric generators run so cleanly and quietly that you can run them safely indoors, or even in a tent. Having your electricity right where you need it is perfect for any situation, especially when it’s raining outside. Just plug your AC, USB, or 12V plug straight into the unit and use it as usual – completely plug and play!
How long will power be out?
How long your area will be without electricity in a disaster will vary hugely depending on where you are and how much damage was done. In 2003, for example, a malfunction at an Ohio power plant caused millions of people in Ontario to be without power for 2 days, whereas a major earthquake on Canada’s west coast could leave many without service for weeks. Whether you live in an urban or rural environment will effect blackout times too as recovery efforts will be focused on larger centres.
Other example scenarios:
- An EMP striking our atmosphere could disrupt power infrastructure for months or years. (If you’re concerned about EMPs consider protecting your electronics and generator with DIY Faraday cages.)
- After the 2011 Christchurch NZ earthquake it took 5 days to recover power to 82% of the eastern suburbs (13% took 2 weeks and the remaining 5% took even longer.)
- In 1999 a rogue lightening strike in Brazil, coupled with under maintained power infrastructure, caused a massive chain reaction. Up to 97 Million people were without power from March 11 – June 22. Three MONTHS without Mario Kart.
How strong of a generator do I need?
Much like emergency water, it’s rare to have too much electricity, however storage and budgets don’t always agree with that line of thinking. So how do you choose the right generator with choices that range from the (frankly adorable) Yeti 150, all the way up to the hulking and powerful Yeti 3000 (it comes with a hand cart)?
Unfortunately, the answer is math (I know, sorry.)
Every Yeti product has a number in the name. This number refers to the number of Watt Hours, or the amount of energy that can be stored in each battery. If you know how many watts your electronics use, it’s pretty simple to work out how long your generator will run them for:
A Yeti 400 will keep a 100W light shining for 4 hours (400Wh / 100W = 4 h)
If you don’t know how much electricity your devices use, you can usually find that number on the device, or online. If you’re looking for a faster method, here’s a cheat sheet:
Remember, if your unit is hooked up to active solar panels it will be charged even while in use, extending these times.
What about solar panels?
There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when deciding what kind of panels to get with your generator. As with electricity itself, it can be a ‘more the merrier’ situation. Although the larger Yeti units can accommodate up to 6 of the Boulder 100 solar panels (the largest we carry), they often don’t need that many.
Each generator has a maximum amount of power that they can accept from solar sources. Depending on your generator this can range from 60 – 480 watts. This will effect how many panels can charge it effectively. For example, if your generator only accept up to 60 watts, and your solar panels are capturing 160 watts from the sun, 100 watts of power is going to waste.
Even so, solar energy isn’t a perfect system. Your Boulder 100 solar panels aren’t always going to generate exactly 100 watts. You’ll have cloudy, short days for periods of the year and depending on where you’re putting your panels you might have shade to contend with. It’s wise to plan for this when deciding how many panels to include in your set up. Two Boulder 100 panels working at half capacity are still generating 100 watts.
Deciding on a generator and solar panel set up can be daunting. If you’re not finding the information you need, or if you want a second opinion, call our friendly and professional team at 1-888-832-1733.
Can I connect a Yeti to my breaker panel?
In a limited capacity – yes. Yeti’s are designed to be portable, so they’re not going to generate as much power as an installed unit that can support an entire house at full blast. Using a Home Adaption Kit however, Yetis can be connected to your breaker panel to maintain up to 4 circuits.
The connection does need to be activated once the power goes out, but for many units this can be done from the Goal Zero Yeti app. Keep your lights, fridge, or whatever else you need running with the tap of a button.
The Home Integration Kit is not approved in all towns/cities, so be sure to check with your local authorities on whether this is an option for you. If you decide to proceed with on demand, in-home power, please work with a licensed electrician to install the unit.
Can a Yeti be a backup for my electric car?
Why not? But it won’t get you very far. Let’s use a Nissan Leaf as an example car to see how this would work. The Leaf uses between 11-24 kWh to travel 100km. The largest Yeti unit, the Yeti 3000 has 3 kWh (or 3000 Watt hours). With these numbers we can conclude that you could travel between 12-30 km on electricity from a Yeti generator. Not far, but it might get you to the next charging station.
Can the Yeti run in freezing temperatures? We are in Canada after all!
The manufacturer recommends running your Yeti generator in temperatures between 0 and 40 degrees Celsius. That being said, customers have found success using their Yetis below freezing, by storing them inside a cooler with the lid propped slightly for ventilation.
All generators create heat while making power, and that little bit of heat, mixed with the insulation from the cooler, has often been enough to keep the unit purring along. Just make sure there is enough room for the fans to work on the side of the unit.
How easy are Yeti generators to move?
These robust units weigh anywhere from 13 – 110 lbs. The heaviest units usually either include a hand cart, or purchase one directly from the Total Prepare team. Oddly, the most powerful units aren’t necessarily the heaviest. The type of battery, lead-acid or lithium, can make a big difference to the weight of the unit.
If you’re thinking about getting a generator, remember to weigh the benefits of solar vs gas, and lithium vs alkaline. If you need any assistance or have any questions about Yeti and Boulder solar products please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team! We’re here to help. 1-888-832-1733 or [email protected]
Thank you for reading!
This article was written by Zenia Platten – Author of Tethered, and emergency preparedness professional.