When the next big asteroid or terrorist attack brings down the electric grid....wait...let me start this on a slightly more positive note: When a little winter snowstorm occurs and you lose your power or you go camping and you don't have access to the electricity grid (ahhh, much nicer) then you will need to find ways to create your own electricity if you want to power you laptop or other small appliances. Unfortunately, creating it out of thin air isn't an option (unlike what the scammers at Magniwork would have you believe) and for some, a residential Solar PV or Wind Turbine system just isn't an option. But there are still some options available that would enable you to charge your phones/laptops or other small appliances around your home or campsite. Some of these options (like the bicycle generator) would be great for back-up power in an off-grid home.
Here is a list of options to create your own electricity that are under $500 (and usually under a few hundred). I've ranked them from what I would consider the most bang for the buck. I'm also including my wattage estimate at full load.
- Bicycle Power Generation: 200-300 watts for a fit person. Probably can only sustain that power output for an hour. Check out out blog on bicycle power output for more info. Advantages: A healthy person can put out a lot of power. Disadvantages: The person doing the pedaling is going to need fuel! Food and water must be available or the pedaler is going to run out of person power. Bike has to be maintained.
- Small Solar Panels: 45 watts for the Sunforce Solar Charging kit in full sun according to a comment on Amazon from someone who installed the kit. Hopefully the sun will be out if tragedy strikes. If not, no power for you! Advantages: Easy to set up and start creating power Disadvantages: Doesn't work at night or with heavy clouds. Not too good in a snow storm! Battery could be cumbersome to lug around.
- Crank power + Small Solar (like the Eton Scorpion): A few watts. And if you get in a real bind you can use a hand crank led light (like the one pictured at the top of the post) and convert it so it will power your iPod so at least you'll have some tunes to listen to while the world ends you wait for the power to come back on. Advantages: Very Portable Disadvantages: Doesn't produce that much power
- Kinetic energy (like the nPower PEG): nPower specs state 2.5 watts and goes on to say: "10 minutes of walking provides approximately 1 minute of talk time on an iPhone 3G or 1 minute of walking provides approximately 1 minute of listening time on an iPod Nano". Which is basically a contradiction to many of the web reviews (like this one on CNET) of the nPower Peg which state that an hour of walking will charge the device to 80% capacity. That would only hold true if 80% battery capacity on your iPhone let you talk for 4.8 minutes (60 minutes/10 minutes * 1 minute of talk time * 80%) and I don't think that is the case. I really wish bloggers who just repost product marketing press releases would do some preliminary analysis! Advantages: Portable and cool to show off Disadvantages: Produces the least amount of power of all options
First decide what you really need to power and how mobile you need to be, and choose your portable power system from there! But don't plan on using one bicycle to power your whole home. As you can see from our post on using bicycles to power a home, it's not that easy! Are there any portable power solutions that I've left off the list?