Monthly Archives: January 2020

Off Grid Solar – First Experiments

I am neither prepper nor survivalist but I do get a kick out of being somewhat self sustainable.  At the end of this I hope to achieve a working knowledge of solar systems and to possibly apply that knowledge to a larger scale application of a solar installation.

Make your own free electricity.  No taxes, no smart meter checking your consumption.  Yeah, well, we’re not making that much electricity here.😃

My intent here is to make a 12vdc system with a Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) battery and create 1000 watts of AC power via a pure sine wave inverter.  1000 watts won’t carry you too far or too long but with the right component mix you could do some large essential tasks like maybe run the washing machine or watching TV for several hours.  Small current drawing appliances like LED lights and items like that will run for ages.

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Sonoff S31 Power Monitor

Sonoff S31

I’ve actually blogged about this before but I bought some more of these and just think that the Sonoff S31 is the best power monitoring device going.   I got mine on Amazon for about $18 each and I think you can find them a buck or two cheaper in other places.  Just make sure that you don’t purchase the Sonoff S31 LITE.. The Lite version DOES NOT power monitor.

The devices work with an app called EWELink but the company that makes all this is called iTead  and they are a Chinese company based in China and some people have caught their app sending back interesting information to the home server in China.   In short……..I don’t trust the app.  You can use them right out of the box with the app but that’s not what I’m all about here at John’s Tech Blog.

So what I do is to modify the devices firmware with something called Tasmota which works on Wifi, creates a web page that displays all your vital information and it ONLY reports to any server if you TELL IT TO.  Mine reports to MY machine to machine protocol server (MQTT) so I can tie the switches into my Home Automation software so I can turn them on and off.  Also you can do really cool stuff which I won’t go into here in great detail.  For example, I can have it send me an email if it sees a refrigerator showing so many watts for so long a period of time.  Excessive wattage would be from the light bulb being on so maybe me pulling 60 extra watts for 2 minutes means someone left the door ajar.  Cool.

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Alpicool C20 Portable Refrigerator

Alpicool C20 Portable Refrigerator

I like gadgets.  And I like useful gadgets.  Why not a portable refrigerator?  Truckers use them.  People who own smaller boats use them.  People who boondock camp use them.  Or how many times have you holiday driven home and thought it would be nice to have some cool drinks or lunch meat for sandwiches available so you aren’t eating expensive, just off the interstate, food.  I drive quite a bit for work and live in hotels a bit as well.  Now that we’ve identified a need let’s identify a product solution.

Enter the Alpicool C20 portable refrigerator/freezer.   That’s right, it is also a freezer.  Cost new was $179, however I must have caught that just right as it is now $209.  I have a three way (120v, 12vdc, gas) Dometic refrigerator in my camper.  It sure is nice but it is NOT a freezer.  I think we all know what happens to chicken and pork after 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator.  If we go out in the woods for any amount of time we may need some method of freezing food unless we want to eat MRE’s.  I do not.
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ZAMP Solar Ready Camper – What Does That Mean?

If you go look at campers there almost always is a sticker on the camper or the dealer will tell you it is “Solar Ready”.

Wow!  Sounds cool.  Let’s delve into what that means.  In the case of my camper, a Rockwood A122 pop up A Frame camper it means there is a 2 pin connector, SAE style located on the frame.

Zamp SAE style Solar Connector

The top pin (male) is wired to the battery and the bottom pin is wired to the frame (ground).  Note that the sticker says to only hook it up to a ZAMP Solar Charging System.  Okay.  If you look at the ZAMP systems they are basically a suitcase solar panel with a charge controller on them.  They want like $700 for them.  It’s crazy.

If you go to Amazon you can get a 100 watt Renogy Solar Suitcase with a waterproof charge controller for about $240.  That’s a no brainer.  What’s the catch?

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Rockwood A122 Two Year Review

The Good Life

A couple of years ago my daughter left for school and I found myself for the first time maybe in my adult life all alone.  I knew I had to shake things up in my life so I went and bought a camper.  I never camped, never thought about camping, and I’m still not sure what compelled me to run to the bank and borrow a bunch of money to buy a camper.

I’m two years into this thing and I’ve learned a lot about camping and figured I’d scratch down my thoughts in the hopes it helps some other middle aged crazy guy.


First of all I have to state that my camper choices were limited by one gigantic factor.  It had to fit in the garage.  I live in an HOA that doesn’t allow campers in the driveway, street or even in your own fenced backyard.   I’m essentially a rule follower so that was my major criteria for selection.   There are not many campers that fit under an 8′ garage door.  Buying a bigger camper and storing it at a pay lot were out of the question as well.  At that time the budget was quite a bit tighter than it is now.   So it had to fit in the garage.  That was that.

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Testing Household Appliances To Save Money

Reddy Kilowatt

Remember this goofy guy?  Reddy Kilowatt. He was a fictional spokesman for the Electric companies and he made his first appearance in 1926.

There were Reddy Kilowatt Youth Clubs and they actively promoted against Socialism and Communism. Those of you who are younger and watch the news could think Socialism in the US is a new and exciting thing.  It isn’t.  They were calling for it in the 1920’s just like they are calling for it now.

His job essentially was to make you think the electric companies were the good guys, and don’t get me wrong, in a lot of ways they were.

They brought power into our homes and businesses and that’s a tough act to follow.  Now though, the power company would like you to conserve power as much as possible which is an interesting concept because, hey, they sell power.

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Jackery Explorer 500 Review

Jackery Explorer 500 Portable Power Station

Although this is the largest Jackery Portable Power Station at the moment darned if Jackery didn’t just debut a 1000 watt power station. I haven’t even pulled the screen protector off this one yet.

This is the Explorer 500 watt power station and it sure is nice.  I’ve been putting it through its paces the last few days and it is REALLY impressive and powerful.

Combined with a Jackery SolarSaga 100 solar panel makes it a self sustaining power station perfect for camping, tent camping, or getting you through a power outage at home. How many times have you needed to stretch a long power cord out around the house to do one simple task?

It really shines in an outdoor situation such as camping.  It’s a bit big and heavy to pack out and hike with unless you are some kind of beast or unless you are camping with others and the load is spread out among the team enough for someone to carry it exclusively in a huge backpack.
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Jackery SolarSaga 100 Watt Solar Panel Review

Jackery SolarSaga 100

I am a big fan of Jackery Products. And it is with great pleasure that I give my two cents regarding the Jackery SolarSaga 100 solar panel .

It’s an interesting solar panel with some very pronounced pros and cons which I’ll delve into here in a bit.

First and foremost lets describe what it is.  It is a 100 watt solar panel that has an 18 volt output at 5.5 amps. Its principle purpose in life is to recharge Jackery Portable Power Stations, specifically the Jackery 160, 240, 500 and the Honda by Jackery 290.  I’m pretty sure it can be used to directly charge other items and we’ll investigate that at a later date.

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How To Hook Any Solar Panel To Jackery Portable Power Station

This is another one of those instances where I didn’t discover it, didn’t design it, didn’t find the solution but am simply providing simple, easy to follow directions so that anyone can EASILY figure out how to do this.  For some reason there is a bit of discussion on how to do this with almost no documentation or photographs on how to do it.

I’ve seen lots of videos, read lots of reviews and basically they say “make sure the polarity is correct”.  On cables and adapters on Amazon if you read the reviews FOR THE SAME PRODUCT some reviews will say “Works Great, 5 Stars” and the next review will say “The polarity is reversed, they never fixed the polarity wiring”.  But nobody has ever shown simple directions that show what to order, and how to hook it up with crystal clear instructions and pictures.

So as Popeye always says “I’ve had all I can take, I can’t takes no more”.

Jackery sells their own line of solar panel chargers for their power stations but I don’t believe any of them can be exposed to water or rain and they are fairly expensive.   A decent 100 watt solar panel will set you back less than $100 and can be exposed to the pouring rain so I can totally understand why people would want to go that route.  But you should watch some of the videos where people buy panels and then splice wires together to make it work.  Some of those people are DANGEROUS.

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Off Grid Living

In a world of convenience and with an aging body why in the world do I posses a desire to go live off grid for short stints and how am I going to pull it off?  Or what if the SHTF?  Already liberals are worried Iran is going to kill us.  Silly liberals.

First of all the beauty of God’s earth is out THERE, not in my den.  I feel like I’ve missed out on so much but while this body is still capable of independent movement it is time to shake it up a bit.

It helps to write out your plan sometimes and that is what I’m doing here.  Mental dry run.

I already have the most important piece of the off grid puzzle and this will be the foundation for everything else I plan to do.  I own a small Rockwood A122 pop up A frame camper.

This is a great little rig and I’ve already had some great adventures with it. I take excellent care of it and it has everything a fella needs to sustain life in the great outdoors.

In fact it almost has too much.  Air Conditioning, Heat Pump, Furnace, hot water heater, microwave, 3 burner stove, gas BBQ grill, electric mattress, sink, refrigerator, bluetooth stereo, cable TV connections, 26 gallon water tank, etc.

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