Survival Skills Blog & Off The Grid Guides

Possibly the worst thing I have ever bought.

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Several months and an entire career ago, I was approached by a good supplier about a new product that he thought I might be interested in buying.( I won’t mention his company as I still have a good relationship with him)

He had a portable solar panel array that would produce upwards of 24 watts of power, had a rechargeable lithium battery, a mini power inverter and a few other odds and ends that just sounded cool.  It seemed a bit pricey at $165.00 but I figured I would go for it and give it a try.  What a mistake…

Pro’s:

-It only takes 8 – 10 hours to fully charge lithium battery with just solar power (3-4 with a DC power supply).

-Battery has a 12V DC output port as well as a  5V USB output port for cell phones and other small USB powered devices

-A 110V DC to AC Inverter and a Universal Adaptor.

-Jumper cable style clamps that attach directly to a DC battery for a quick charge when sun isn’t available.
-A 12v Cigarette lighter adaptor for additional charging source while you’re on the move.

-The whole kit folds up to the size of an iPad and can be stored just about anywhere

This all sounds good right?

Con’s:

The damn thing just didn’t work. Not only did it not work, but the charge controller actually caught on fire.

Also when trying to charge the lithium battery from the cigarette lighter adapter, it started to smoke. I threw the whole thing out of the window thinking it was about to blow up.

I called my buddy and he quickly sent me a second one to try.  This one didn’t catch on fire or blow up, but the lithium battery failed to charge and one of the panels came to me with a crack in it.

Oh and another thing to mention, the packaging lists it as a 24w kit but the inner paperwork shows it as being 18w

After receiving a second curse laden phone call from my supplier, he quickly refunded my money and even pulled all of the items off of his shelf and sent them back to the manufacturer as defective.  I have seen this exact kit for sale with different packaging across multiple sites.

As a warning, do not I repeat do not purchase This one.  I am still looking for a small scale solar kit that I can use to power small electronics, charge a cell phone, or even trickle charge a vehicle with.  Do you guys have any suggestions?

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25 Comments

  • FireAntMan says:
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    I found a 45watt solar arrangement (3 panels) for about $150 at Harbor Freight…you would have to buy a power inverter as such, but it seems to be satisfactory. Worth a look..!

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    • Wally says:
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      The Harbor Freight setup has a notoriously bad charge controller. So, if you by that one, get a new charge controller.
      You can buy the parts and make your own, but it won’t be portable. (See YouTube and search on making solar array.)

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    • 0

      Buy equipment that you can bet your life on… Cheap equipment isn’t the right choice.

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    • Clint says:
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      I have installed a bunch of those HF sets in an orphanage in Haiti. We did have a controller go bad, but they replaced it without any trouble. They may not be tip top quality but they get the job done when they work. Having the electronics for an extra controller will be a good idea if you go this route.

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    • leonard says:
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      forget the hf solar kit as the size alone is prohibitive. i bought a 45 watt solar panel (brand new)on ebay that has 25 year warranty and is only about 2 feet by 2 feet square, and just 1 pannel. same wattage as hf but 1/6th the size. get your charge controller there too. remember volts (12) times amps = watts. 45 watts is less than 4 amps. i bought a 45 amp controller, that will handle 540 watts. all for the same price as the hf one. tested the pannel inside the house on a cloudy day with windows uncovered and no lights on, amp meter showed it worked great( no direct sunlight. at 1/6th the size you can put 6x the wattage in the same space.

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  • Rocky Night says:
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    In my humble opinion Harbour Freight anly sells disposable junk tools. Their electric equipment is terrible from my experience.

    “Goal Zero” Have the best Solar Power eqipment out there that I have found. I am using the “Yeti” right now to power my cpu and router.

    I still recommend doing your own research but put these guys up on the top to compare the rest.

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  • Linda says:
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    You might look into http://www.goalzero.com/shop/p/79/Guide-10-Adventure-Kit/1:1/
    Great service, impeccable knowledgeable folks.

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  • Toine says:
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    The Harbor Freight solar kit is great. I have four of these (total of 12 panels) on the roof of my house and with a deep cycle group 24 or 27 battery and a small inverter, it is a nice, fairly low cost backup system. The kit sometimes is on sale (lowest price I saw last week was $139, here in south Florida). part number is 68751. Hope it helps.

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  • Grant says:
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    I also bought a Goal Zero kit and have been very happy with the results.

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  • U.S. Kustoms says:
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    Iv’e heard bad stories about the Harbor freight kit too. But I’ve also heard good stories, like my own. I’ve had one on the roof of my 8′ pop up camper for two years now, The camper has a 7″ lift kit and I pull it with a jeep. It has seen literally hundreds of miles of dirt roads getting banged around pretty good. And it still work great. The jeep and the camper is my bugout rig, I can live in this set up for months in the boondocks if I had to.
    I believe it’s luck of the draw, you either get a good or a bad one. I evidently got a good one.

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  • Richter says:
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    Many of these ” New “, Solar power Kits are made dirt cheap, over seas & sold at a Huge Profit here in the states. But Cheap, Is never always Bad!,
    If you Have the Knowledge & know how to Trace a Circuit or Soldier a joint, Buy the Harbor Freight Solar Kits. In most cases, I’ve found a Soldiered Joint was at fault & a simple fix to make.
    And watch those Solar Panels, They Break Easy, But in most cases They too can be repaired or Replaced, Cheaply.
    Though many go out & recycle used Car Battries, Beware, The State & Federal Laws governing Waste Acid Desposal is Strickley Enforced in most areas, Just use Common seience when changing out that Acid & by the way, NEVER dump that Acid in a Galvanized Bucket, The Uas of a Good Glass Pot is best, or a Heavy Acid Proof Bucket can be used.
    You can learn all about it on You-Tube or Instructables (The Best).
    Don’t forget about Wind power or for those close to a Lake or Ocean, A good Wave-Ryder Generator can provide all of the power you’ll likely need.
    As for those states that have Zoning Laws, Find out if a Wind-powered windmill is Approved for you country folk, If it is, you have a ready to convert Wind powered Generator.

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  • Scarlett says:
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    Boy, this is the question of the year to me. The one area I have NO resources at all is solar powering anything! Sure it looks good, sounds, good, but I don’t have time to get the degree in Engineering it apparently takes to figure out what is junk and what is good. When I start reading about Amps, Watts, and whatever my eyes glaze over and I contemplate what we are having for dinner.
    WILL SOMEBODY FIGURE THIS OUT AND TELL THE REST OF US? All I know is, Monochrystalline is better. That ain’t much. Thanks, Fellow Preppers!

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    • Neil says:
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      I recommend you do not by the Jim Baker unit.

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  • Steve says:
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    Goalzero.com has great items and work well. I have the guide 10 plus and have been using it for about a year now. I charge my small devices( phone, iPod, iPad Etc. ). Another is the Crank-a-watt. It is a wind mill in a box and produces 12 volt and 120 vac at the same time. No need for gas or sun just crank and it stores power in a battery. Couple it with a small solar panel and a car charger and you have 4 ways to store power. It runs a small fridge and is only 20 lbs. it is the size of a tool box and works out of box. Let me know what you think if you get one. Mine works great ! Crank-a-watt.com is whair I found it.

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  • Brian Rainey says:
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    I have only heard good things from lots of peppers about Goal Zero. It comes in a range if sizes, and u can combine panels and sets. It’s on the top if my list for solar power equipment to acquire. After the holidays I’m going to start getting solar ready.

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  • Toby Smith says:
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    You can (if you want to play) buy the cells inexpensively if you buy damaged cells on Ebay like Item # 181022846891. For about $25 you can buy enough to make a 150 Watt panel. It will not be as pretty, but it will work well. Each cell will act kind of like a 1/2 volt battery, so if you want a 12 volt battery based system, you will need 28 cells in series (like the old Christmas lights) to get a 14 volt source. Power is easy to figure out, if you multiply voltage times the current the cells produce, you have their wattage. These cells can be mounted (AFTER WIRING) to a 1/4 or thicker pane of plate glass. I recommend a building salvage, or a business furniture supply store fo ra desk protector sheet. I found some at a building salvage supplier that are 4′ X 6′ that I am building on.

    Find the clearest epoxy you can get and butter the front wired side of the cell, place one edge down on the cleanest glass surface you can make, and GENTLY tilt the cell flat to allow the air to excape. Large pressure is to be avoided, these cells are fragile, until this glue dries! Once dried, take the front wired connection of tinned copper tape and attach it to the back of the next cell in line until you have the voltage you need to charge the battery. Put a wooden box frame under the finished panel, and set it up to the angle for your area, and you have a solar panel. Don’t forget to include an isolation diode with each bank of cells and batteries.

    If you are a determined scrounger, collect old computer backup units. Remove the “beeper”, and you can make a decent 110 Vac source from them. They are not pretty, but they are often free…. :-)

    I do stained glass, and I intend to cut and fit the broken cells to repair them before I mount them. I want about 1500 watts, and at this rate I should be able to do it for about $350 plus glass.

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  • MATT Parkhouse says:
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    Volkswagan used to import their cars with a solar charger stuck to a window with suction cups. There were on eBay a lot, going for $20 or $25. I picked a few of these about five years ago. They put out a little under one amp.

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  • Shawn M says:
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    Make your own!! Wattage is determined by how big you want to go, and what kind of cells you put in it. You can buy controllers for less than $25 that are robust enough to handle charging a car battery, and thats really all you need.
    If you want to also get an inverter, I know you CAN get modified sine wave inverters cheap….. I highly recommend NOT buying those!!! Get True Sine Wave inverters!!! They are more expensive…..but they can run EVERYTHING that can be plugged into them…..within the limits of their watts output…. if you get a grid tie inverter along with a regular inverter, you can “stack” them and increase your watts output as needed.

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  • PAUL says:
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    take a look at biolite stove

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  • PAUL says:
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    check out Solar Joos Orange

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  • JD Howell says:
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    The Goal-Zero recommendations are spot-on. I have their Nomad 7, which my wife picked up from Costco. It keeps our iPhones charged, and when using the included AA rechargeable batteries on the charge controller, even puts charge in our iPad. It comes with AAA rechargeables and adapter, which is very handy for keeping fresh charges for head lamps. I’m very happy with the cost and features.

    You might also check out EcoDirect.com and speak with their people if you are wanting to have a more substantial setup on a work or travel vehicle. I have two of their Alps 55W panels, a Xantrex XP1500, Phocos Charge Controller and added Red Top battery in my Subaru Forester. It’s more than adequate to run LED lighting, a laptop & mobile printer and my ARB 47 Liter fridge – without using the car’s power for operation. Great for travels and extended car camping trips.

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  • John says:
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    This might be what you are looking for – http://www.oasismontana.com/RV_systems.html

    They have lots of off-grid stuff. 😉

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  • Deborah says:
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    Hello
    Voltaic makes really good and affordable solar charging systems , of all sizes! I like the one I’ve had for over a year. the people at the company are very nice,helpful and professional. Good quality. they have a website you can check out. Voltaic
    be safe , Deb

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  • Janet Prampero says:
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    iPad worst thing I ever bought

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