Big storm brought more questions about power stations and solar power

Everyone wanted to talk about portable power stations in the aftermath of our massive storm.

Here’s one email exchange I had with a reader.

She wrote, “So my spouse and I were sitting at dinner talking about solar panels. Have you written anything about them? We are considering them to help out in situations like Dallas experienced recently. We’re wondering if the people who have them were able to make it through the power outages successfully. I’m wondering how much it would take to run a refrigerator, electric blanket and wine cooler. Also, how would you direct the solar electricity to the items you want to power? Just wondering.”

I haven’t written much about solar panels, but I have some with a new power station I’m testing for an upcoming review.

They are great for generating power when the sun is out, but portable panels are not cheap, and, depending on the model, they take up a decent amount of space.

Portable panels can be stored away until you need them, or you can buy and mount panels permanently.

The solar energy is collected by the panels and stored in batteries.

The batteries are connected to an inverter that changes the DC power to AC power.

I’m sure you’ve seen houses in your neighborhood with solar panels mounted on the roof. These systems have a bank of batteries to store the power.

If you are interested in a permanent solar system, there are plenty of companies that can install one for you.

Portable power stations have the battery and inverter built into one box.

The portable power stations have different capacities that are expressed in watt hours.

You’ll have to figure out how much power your stuff uses and then buy a power station with a big enough battery.

If you need to figure how much power your refrigerator uses, for example, you can look at the yellow Energy Guide sticker on each new appliance. It will list estimated yearly electrical use. The example I found uses 398 kilowatt-hours per year.

Divide that number by 365 to get 1,090 kilowatt-hours per day. Multiply that by 1,000 to get 1,090 watt-hours per day.

The last battery I reviewed had 1,267 watt-hours of battery power, so it could power that fridge for a little more than a day before the battery needs charging.

Other gadgets and appliances have their own power needs, so you have to plan accordingly. Things that heat up use the most power.

The solar panels are needed to recharge the power station when you don’t have electricity. You’ll want multiple panels to be able to charge up the power station fast enough to charge it in one day.

You might want to have more than one power station so you can use one while you charge the other.

All of this isn’t cheap. Portable power stations of decent size cost more than $1,000, and folding solar panels are about $300 each. So you could easily spend $2,000 to $3,000 if you want to get serious about having enough battery power to run things.

Plus, during a storm, there may not be enough sunlight to recharge the battery each day. We had three or four days of cloudy weather during our February storms, which is bad for solar panels.

There is no perfect answer.

Ideally, you could have a big power station or two charged and ready to go when you need them. Solar charging is good but time-consuming, and you have to be there to move the panels so they keep facing the sun throughout the day to keep the charge level high.

If you can find a place with power, you can drive your power stations somewhere to recharge them from AC power in a few hours, but the availability of power within driving distance is not always a given.