At Home in Puerto Rico - Personal Solar Backup Power in Puerto Rico - picture of bridge in Aguada damaged by earthquake

personal solar backup power in puerto rico

In the weeks following Hurricane Maria, it became painfully obvious that we were woefully unprepared for a prolonged power outage. Yes, our 1500W inverter (connected to our car battery) was instrumental in allowing us to save most of the food in our fridge and is still a key component of our emergency backup power kit. However, it’s definitely not something you want to rely on indefinitely. Not only is it hard on your engine to leave it running for hours at a time, but it also requires a steady supply of gasoline… something which was difficult to come by in the days and weeks following the hurricane. That’s why when things got back to normal I resolved to figure out a way to integrate some solar into our backup power toolkit.

As I started my research, I quickly realized that one of the most expensive components of a solar power system is the batteries. Therefore, I decided to focus our solar setup on charging devices that already have batteries. It turns that this dovetailed nicely with what I need for work and trading. If I can’t connect, my income dries up. This means I need to keep my laptop, hotspot, and phone powered regardless of whether the grid is up or not.

assembling my personal solar backup power kit

Finding a solar panel to charge phones and hotspots is pretty easy since they don’t require much power. I settled on the Anker 21W solar charger. It has two USB ports and can not only charge our phones and hotspot but ANYTHING that charges via USB, such as our battery-powered showerhead and mosquito racket.

The search for a foldable solar panel with enough juice to charge my laptop was a bit more challenging. I have a Dell 17″ 2-in-1 laptop. I chose this laptop for two reasons:

  1. In general, you are going to get the longest battery life from a 2-in-1 laptop (one that converts into a tablet). When it was new, I was getting around 7 hours of battery life out of it. Now, I get closer to 4 hours when I switch to battery saver mode which is still pretty decent.
  2. Dell has a line of external batteries specifically made for their laptops called “Power Companions“.

After researching the available solar panel options for laptops, I settled on the MegaSolar 60W. (they now have a 100W version which I would buy if I decide to get another.) I also had to purchase a DC connector for my laptop as none of the ones that were included fit.

At Home in Puerto Rico - Personal Solar Backup Power in Puerto Rico - picture of my solar backup power kit
the solar panels and batteries of my kit

testing my personal solar backup power kit

I spent the spring of 2018 researching and collecting the pieces of this kit and finished putting it together just in time for hurricane season. Thankfully, the next two hurricane seasons were quiet, so my solar backup power kit gathered dust in my office. Then, on January 7th, 2020, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck southwestern Puerto Rico, knocking out power in my area for 3 days. It was time to dust off the solar panels and give the kit a real-world test!

Some of the best sun we receive at our condo is on the side balcony which is not near my office. This is where having a power companion came in especially handy. When my laptop is connected to the power companion, the power companion is depleted first, keeping the laptop’s battery topped off at 100%. Then when the power companion needed to be recharged, I connected it to the solar panel on the side balcony while I kept working in my office. This, along with the Anker 21W keeping my hotspot and phone charged, worked really well. The only thing I might do is buy another power companion so I can keep one connected to the solar panel at all times during daylight hours.

crude setup that kept me connected and able to work

Not necessarily related to solar, but I wanted to mention another thing that turned out to be extremely helpful during the outage: our jump starter. After the hurricane, we had a couple of occasions where we would go down to start our car, only to find the battery dead. Each time this happened we had to push our car out of the garage and then wave someone down to give us a jump. Around this time, we saw that Sam’s Club was stocking a Stanley jump starter and compressor. This thing has been a lifesaver for us (and our friends!) multiple times since we bought it. During the recent outage, it was great for giving our phones a little charge at night. It also has a built-in LED light which came in handy in the evenings as well. I think with light usage like this it could potentially last a week or more without having to recharge.

personal solar backup power in puerto rico

With a creaky electrical grid and the everpresent potential for natural disasters, the next prolonged outage is a question of when not if. Obviously, the time to prepare is now, not after the fact. With scenes of gas lines snaking out of empty gas stations in the wake of Hurricane Maria burned into my memory, I gain some peace of mind knowing that these tools will keep me connected no matter what. (assuming the cell towers aren’t taken down!)

At Home in Puerto Rico - personal solar backup power in puerto rico - graph showing recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico
click to track the earthquakes in southern Puerto Rico with an interactive dashboard

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