I’m a huge fan of Jackery Portable Power Stations. In fact I’m not sure how I ever lived without them.
The pic on the left is the Jackery Explorer 1000 and does it ever pack a punch. You can look up the specs and how many things it can charge and how many times. That’s not what this blog is about.
It’s about improving the experience and maybe saving a few dollars along the way.
A device like this lends itself to being used in an outdoor, camping type environment. There’s not a real need to use one in a home or office that has plenty of outlets unless you are frugal and like to charge your items for free to reduce the electricity bill. To be frankly honest though, charging your cell phone by portable power station won’t save you that much money but of course every little bit helps.
This project was/is a tiny bit of a mess. But I’m still going to declare it a success but it was fraught with issues. Issue number one is political. For some reason the US is not a major supplier, and barely a supplier at all, of high tech Lithium batteries. They all just about come from China.
I read on a website recently where someone stated that the Chinese had perfected the art form of lying. That’s a stone cold fact. Dealing with Chinese companies, manufacturers and shippers and you can expect to wallow in the bullshit at least once. Enough of that.
So if you want LiFePO4 cells you have to go to China. I got mine from Alibaba. They are 3.2v, 200 amp hour batteries. I bought 4 cells which would equal 12 volts when wired in series. Total cost with busbars (to connect the cells together) was about $505. In comparison to buy an off the shelf 12v, 200 amp hour LiFePO4 battery from a supplier would cost nearly $2000.
You also need a Battery Management System. This cost about $90.
Jackery has released a new Portable Power Station, the Jackery Explorer 1000. I’m very familiar with the line as I own the 160, the Honda by Jackery 290, and the 500 already.
I’ve obtained much satisfaction and value from the Power Stations and I keep one on my desk at work and I travel almost nowhere without one in the truck.
I work in places that don’t typically have power such as on the side of military runways and Landing Zones (LZ’s).
I also love to camp and I wouldn’t dream of going out without a Portable Power Station these days. The 500 was darn near perfect for me and I even found some low wattage AC devices that worked with it such as a 600 watt coffee pot (that works on the 500 watt Jackery) and a low wattage hair dryer among other normal devices that consume way less power.
Problem: My Victron Solar Charge Controller and Victron Battery Monitor are bluetooth only. This makes it very difficult to observe the status of my solar power system while I am away from home.
How I deal with this is to take a laptop and run VictronConnect software on it and then I can VPN into my network and then VNC into the laptop and observe VictronConnect. It works well 90% of the time with the 10% downtime as being the most important times I actually need to observe it. And it ties up an entire laptop which must be kept powered on and within bluetooth range of the Solar board.
Solution: Victron has software or more accurately firmware that emulates their Color Control GX / Venus GX monitoring devices and it runs on a Raspberry Pi. A Venus GX costs nearly $300 and a Raspberry Pi costs about $30. It even runs on older Raspberry Pi’s which are even cheaper. I’ll be using a Raspberry Pi 3 for this.
This last week or two has been one of the most bizarre in my 57 years however the chaos all seems confined to Social Media and Media in general. People are still nice, commerce is still chugging along. If we didn’t own TV’s and computers we’d never know much was up.
In an attempt to get the REAL story I’ve been creeping on the Police Scanner and the State medical communications. It’s not been very interesting. Boring in fact. If there is a coverup, the people with the radios are covering up their coverup.
Anyway, like REM says, “I Feel Fine”. Not just figuratively but literally as well. I’m ready for the whole of humanity to let the crazy out. I have ample food, a gun with bullets, clean water, communication devices, and alternative power. And most importantly it would seem……..toilet paper.
Bring it on!
In the wonderful world of solar there are different types of storage batteries. The Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries are the smartest of all batteries with battery management systems, temperature controls which reduce the charge rate when it is really hot and stop it all together when the battery itself is below freezing. Heck I’ve seen some batteries that have USB chargers built into them.
Charge controllers are just as smart as are the battery monitoring systems and they have a myriad of settings that is tough to decode.
If you go to the Battleborn Batteries website they have components they recommend for their batteries. Seems they love the Victron stuff. Under MPPT Charge Controllers it is all Victron. Consequently their support pages have all the requisite settings for optimizing your battery charging.
4 – Renogy 100 watt SolarPanels
I finally got my last 2 solar panels for my array and got them mounted up and now I can produce a whopping 12volts at around 22 amps. That equals a production of about 264 watts. In English that means my batteries will charge up and top off pretty darn fast.
Yesterday was a nice sunny day and I have never produced energy before 7:30 or 7:45. Yesterday it started around 7:00. By 9 AM my battery was at 13.6 volts which is actually the full operating charge. Before noon sometime I had maxed and was on Float voltage. And by “before noon”, I probably mean 10 or 11 because I wasn’t around to check it.
I did have a “Whoops” moment in the design. When selecting a charge controller you take the number of watts divided by the number of volts to select how high a current regulator you need.
Okay, I’m new at this Solar thing and far from an expert but I have learned a few things. My goal was/is not to go off grid, it is simply to power most of the items in my bedroom with solar to stretch out gasoline for the generator in a power outage situation such as with the two hurricanes I’ve experienced since moving to Eastern North Carolina. Secondly I’d like to save a few bucks on the electric bill, and thirdly I get a kick out of doing stuff like this.
My basic goals for solar are:
- Power a TV and Firestick for entertainment
- Power a small portable refrigerator
- Power a Shortwave receiver with an active (powered) antenna
- Power an LED lamp
- Power a 12v fan
- Power a battery recharge station to keep AM/FM/Shortwave radios powered
- Save a few bucks (with the understanding I’ll probably never recoup the cost of all this stuff)
I call this my lifeboat. Here are a couple of things I have learned so far.
I built a solar system to power my master bedroom and placed it in the closet. I had intended for it to sit between two sets of shelves against the wall. Rather than measure I guessed it was slightly more than 2′ between the shelves. Guess what? It was just less than 2 feet.
So I was in a situation where I needed to trim the board down however that would have caused a full disassemble. I decided the easiest and fasted thing to do was to just go to Lowe’s and get a smaller board and then swap over.
Then at some point upgrade-itis got the best of me. I had no method of battery monitoring other than the voltage displayed on the MT50 display screen. That’s not really a battery monitor. Then I decided I’d get a bluetooth fancy Charge Controller that I could monitor from everywhere. I have a Mac mini at home that is on all the time and within BlueTooth range of the controller. I can just VPN into my network and see the battery state.
VictronConnect App on MacOS displaying battery information
BattleBorn LiFePO4 Battery
I took the $1000 plunge and got a BattleBorn 100 amp hour battery. I know it sounds crazy but there is literally NO COMPARISON between this battery and a Flooded Lead Acid battery (my first solar battery) or an AGM Deep Cycle Battery (my second solar battery).
The BattleBorn Battery wins in EVERY single metric except maybe for cost.
It charges like lightning, stays charged, and uses power way more efficiently and lasts longer than the other two batteries I mentioned above.
If you have a solar storage system of any kind you will benefit from this battery. I guarantee it. The biggest advantage is in depth of discharge (DOD). That means you can use the battery near death and it won’t damage it. Take a lead acid battery and use it below 50% of charge and you’ll damage it.
My charge controller is an Epever 20 amp Tracer BN 2215 MPPT. It does NOT have a Lithium Iron Phosphate setting but it does have a configurable USER mode. If you set the parameters manually you’ll have a perfect setup for maintaining your $1000 battery.