Minimalist Emergency Power

Minimalist Portable Power Kit

Minimalist Portable Power Kit

FWIW, this is a photo of my “minimalist emergency power kit”.

The very small unitized inverter and the small light live in my daily backpack. A smaller version (shorter) of the power cord too. Notice that I’ve cut off the “3 prong preventer” on the end of the socket section so that a 3 prong plug can be used with the two wire system. In an emergency, I don’t want to find out that the radio or whatever I need to plug in has 3 prongs and I’m screwed. This drop cord also lets me “share an outlet” at Starbucks or the Airport when all the charging locations are full… (Hmmm… haven’t tried going through an airport with the dropcord since they went to new screening… probably would not make it as it’s a ‘garrote’ ? Maybe if packed with all the power adapter cables in one big bundle… Last time I just traveled with a ‘triple tap’ adapter.)

The light bulb has a ‘plug in adapter’ on it. Just plug into drop cord and hang over rear view mirror to light up the whole car for 7 W of power. Put it on a longer drop cord to light up the living room from the car in the garage…

I’ve dropped that bulb from the seat of the chair (on which it is photographed) to the hard wood floor without breaking. I’m generally using “curly bulbs with shells” in any place where there is risk of bulb breakage / dropage. It’s worth it to avoid the mercury exposure risk. ( I’ve had 3 ‘curly bulbs’ break inside the house. I’m done with that…)

FWIW, a ‘plug in bulb’ is just generically useful. In a dim bathroom in the gas station, but it has an outlet? Add some light. Working in a wiring closet at a client site with no light, but an outlet? Plug ‘er in. Garage bulb out? Plug it in while you change the bulb. Etc. I also sometimes carry a ‘screw base to plug’ adapter, but have had much less use for it.

That small white inverter cost me $14 at Fry’s Electronics. The adapter was about $1.50 and the bulb was something cheap at Ikea. The drop cords are available everywhere very cheap. All up it’s under $20.

The blue 300 W inverter typically goes in the car if I’m going on a long trip. It has two outlets, 3 prong, and an on/off switch. That’s a bit more convenient when you want to charge the laptop and cell phone at the same time as running a light as you can put a ‘triple tap’ in one of the outlets. It also lets you use industrial 3-prong drop cords easily and any 3 prong equipment without the mickey-mouse adaptation. You will note a bit of dirt on it from a ‘spill’. It’s fairly robust with an all metal case (cooling fins) and a built in micro fan. Not enough noise to bother me, especially when driving. With an industrial 3 prong 100 foot drop cord (in the garage) I can use it to light up any room in the house and run some minor appliances too. (The small TV and radio or modem, for example, along with charging cell phones, laptops, etc.) IIRC, I spent about $50 for it, but that was some many years ago.

I also have a 150 W “rat on a rope” very small inverter that used to live in the backpack (replaced by the mono-block one in the picture). It now lives in the glove box of the car that has an inconvenient cigarette lighter that needs a plug / wire and will not take the monoblock style. Somewhere is a 250 W inverter without a switch and fan (that may have gone into the ‘aw shit’ box in the garage…) and I’ve got a 1000 W inverter “New in box” in the garage for a someday project. These things are very cheap, very effective and not at all hard to like…

IMHO, there is no reason whatsoever for anyone to be without “120 VAC”.

For a while I also had a “car starter” thing that cost me about $40 at Costco. It had a Lead/Acid battery in it, a charger for the wall, and built on jumper cables. It also had a lighter socket (and a built in light). So I could just flip on the light, plug in the inverter, and start plugging in other stuff. (The light was incandescent, so you get a lot more hours of run time with the CFL on an inverter). Eventually it had the battery die (after about 5? 7? years) and I’ve not got a new one yet. But it was an easy way to have a ‘kit’ of light, jumpers, and inverter.

If anyone is wondering why I have so many of these: I had, at the time, 4 drivers in the home. I was often “on the road” on contracts. So I had my car kit, my backpack travel kit, the spousal car kit, the kids car kit…

Now that the son has moved out, and I’m not doing the ‘on the road to work’ thing, it’s overkill. At the time it was “one kit for each likely place of need” and at one time or another just about every kit got used.

FWIW, I also have a mini-maglight in a holster that lives on my belt at all times (other than at the airport when it goes in the carry on). This is the result of needing to use a laptop to light up the windowless computer room during the Loma Prieta post-quake shutdown / walk-through. We had emergency lighting for the exits, but not to find plugs and switches to down equipment (so as to prevent start up surge killing it or starting fires). After having a team of 4 folks all walking around using laptops as flashlights I decided to have a light live on my hip. I’ve used it more than anything other than my car keys… just an incredibly frequent thing to use once it’s there…

So now, in any quake or whatever, It’s just ‘reach for the hip’ and I’ve got light in about 2 seconds. Then at most it’s “let me get this out of my backpack and plug it into the car… I’ll be right back with a power cord.”

After that, while sitting in a well lit room and charging whatever needs charging, I’ll worry about things like “Do I want to start the generator?”…

“Preparation” can be a little thing, but it really does pay off big.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Emergency Preparation and Risks and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Minimalist Emergency Power

  1. pyromancer76 says:

    Thanks. Clearly written with a cool pic. I have sent this on to friends and relatives. If you want to include a bunny checking it out that’s ok, too.

  2. R. de Haan says:

    You’re well prepared with simple and cheap means.

    I took on a similar project but took it a little further.

    Since a few months I have a single solar panel charging two 100 Ah ship batteries and converted part of the 220V network to 12V all through the house and replaced the lamps with 12 V lamps I bought in a camper shop. I tested it and simply continued to use it. So no longer use electricity from the grid for lighting, computers and the television set and it works fine until now, even during the “dark day’s”.

    The solar panel was second hand and came from the roof of a caravan that was removed from a recreation park and the ship batteries were used as well but in good condition and with a little luck they will last for years. I am talking about 150 US dollar operation here.

    In case of a black out I run the fridge, the washing machine, dish washer and the micro oven on a generator set which is based of a three cylinder Smart engine I took from a crashed Smart for scrap price.
    It had only 1500 miles clocked. I’ve welded a frame for the engine and the generator an electric motor I took from a forklift truck.
    I installed the entire unit including the control box in the basement.

    The radiator and exhaust heat is used to heat a 125 ltr. boiler for hot water and the exhaust emissions (water vapour and CO2) is released in a 20 m2 green house in the garden to make the tomatoes grow bigger and faster.
    The generator is converted and runs on propane and it taps from a big tank in the garden from which I also fuel up my car. The generator doesn’t use much fuel, it’s very smooth, quiet and clean.
    I’m now thinking about how to make an auto start and switch off system to activate and stop the generator automatically in case of a blackout.

    Propane is also used for hot water generation and central heating fueling a high efficiency combi boiler but this winter I burned wood most of the time.

    Essential tasks to fulfill now: keep the solar panel clean and free from snow and leaves, check the liquid levels of the batteries once a month and check the oil and coolant level of the generator.

    Getting the lightning from the batteries didn’t effect the electricity bill very much but that’s because electricity prices are getting higher and higher here in Germany and so is the price of propane.

    It’s time to leave Europe and move to a place where the authorities are less present and have kept their sanity.

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    @R. de Haan:

    If you figure out where that is, let me know… I hear the Isle of Mann has some features ;-)

    You have a very nice rig. I was headed that way once, but never fininshed (due to neighbor planting redwood trees ‘up sun’ and change of governor.. so electricity was stable again). I may end up headed back that way if Calif. PUC keeps adding on the fees…

    This posting is just my “minimalist kit”. At some future time I’ll make a small posting about my “generator et. al.” kit…

  4. Nice one EM. :)
    We have a 5KW solar array that feeds back into the grid, but only when it detects mains power. This sounds a bit odd but its to prevent lines-men from electrocution when fixing faults.
    However its a pity to ignore all that home made power when its needed most so I have toyed with the idea of using a small inverter to trick the system into thinking its connected to the grid.
    Obviously I need to isolate the house from the grid first – for the sake of the lines-men. I figure a small battery and inverter like yours should do the trick.

  5. xyzlatin says:

    Thanks for writing so many interesting posts on different things. This post made me smile as I compared your preparation, because I have had my non high tech emergency lighting sitting under the bathroom sink for some time now.

    It consists of about fifteen glass bottles with lids and with tea lights sitting in them and boxes of matches, ready to be placed in strategic positions around the house when we start having the rolling blackouts in about a year or so when our electricity generators are closed down by the Green religionistas here in Oz!

  6. LarryOldtimer says:

    My emergency power is my knowledge of how to make fire without matches.

  7. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ve got some home made “emergency candles” in a box. They are the 8 once wide mouth jars with a bit of commercial candle in the middle, then bulk wax poured around that. With the jar and lid, it’s water and just about everything else proof. Some have a book of matches under the lid too.

    I made these prior to the generators, decades back. Keep forever. Every so often I’ll take one out and use it, just for ambiance…

    I’ve also got a couple of small kerosene lamps and a jug of lamp oil. Every few years I’ll drive to Tahoe in the cold weather and the lamp oil goes ‘into the tank’ about 50 miles before parking for the night. ( I have a Diesel car). Then I buy a fresh jug of lamp oil later…

    With the above kit, I really ought to just forget about the kerosene lamps, but it’s become a habit now… and a couple of liters of lamp oil really doesn’t cost much.


    I’d call that an ’emergency heating and lighting system’… as it’s not going to charge my cell phone too well. Then again, most folks don’t really care about TV during a real emergency…

  8. You see where it takes the global warming creed…Can you imagine what will you need if politicians succeed in shutting down all coal power centrals and replace them with “the windmills of their mind”?
    Is it that madness unstoppable?

  9. R. de Haan says:

    You hit the nail right on the head Adolfo.
    In Germany they have introduced E10 (10% ethanol) gasoline.
    Super Gasoline 95 octane is now only available at a higher price.
    E10 is an engine killer, a people killer and an integral part of the biggest scam in the world next to the derivatives/Credit Default Swap scam which will bankrupt the entire planet.

    E.M. Smith,
    Think Panama.
    Location: Boquete at the border with Costa Rica, great international community on the Pacific side. Buy a house in the mountains, no heating or air conditioning required, no bugs or mosquito’s at that location. If you earn your money outside Panama, no taxes.

    If you are a US pensioner you can get a pensioners residence permit.

    If you invest in tourism which is easily done by building a house and six cabana’s that you rent out to tourists for 100 USD a day, you have a living and you don’t pay any taxes either. The work is done by two locals you employ for about 450 USD a month.

    There is a lot of opportunity there and a great climate, good infrastructure, roads, internet and medical facilities.

    You close an expat health insurance for relative little money to be covered and offers the service to fly you out to any location if local meds can’t help you.

    Food is (relative) cheap, coffee (real coffee, the best in the world) 0,35 USD, a bottle of beer 0,65 USD in a bar or restaurant.

    You are allowed to import a new car from the US every 2 years without import taxes. The locals stand in line for such cars and you can sell it after two years and make a good price as you have ordered the next one.
    LPG is USD 1.95 per gallon, gasoline the same as the USA.

    It won’t take long before there are direct flights from
    David Airport, the first big city near Boquete to the USA, otherwise you have to fly in via Panama City = 600 km from Boquete.

    It’s really interesting to spend a holiday there and have a good look around.

    Boquete is situated near a Volcano named Volcan
    and it borders a bird park with more than 2200 different species. You can go wild water rafting, hiking, mountain climbing, or go to the coast approx. 60 km away and spend your time on the beach or go fishing or scuba diving. You can have your own plane there with no complications and do whatever you want to do.

    If you want detailed info I can send you links addresses and reliable contacts.

  10. @R. de Haan

    …..unless someone decides to set up a windmill farm up there… :-)

  11. P.G. Sharrow says:

    Looks like the UPS back up is working so well I didn’t realize the power was off for the last 20 minutes. we have had 10 inches of snow the last 24 hours. I’m glad it is melting fast. pg

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    @R de Haan:

    Thanks for the pointer. I’m trying to work out a Latin Tour for the next year or two and I’ll put Panama on the list…

    @P.G. Sharrow:

    Well, when done right, you find out about the power outage after it is over ;-)

    I’ve been inside fully UPS computer rooms and not known there was a ‘glitch’ until I left the building… ( properly done computer shop UPS has the mains charge a battery bank, then the whole shop runs on the inverter all the time. Not even a 1/4 cycle ‘blip’ in a power “failure”… )

    My home used to have a mini-UPS in each main room. Often we’d only know the power was out as they would start softly “cheeping”. As their batteries have died (it’s been about a decade now) I’ve just retired them (as our power has been reliable too, what with Gray(out) Davis gone) so our next power outage will be more “interesting”.

    FWIW, our “false spring” has turned back into cold drenching rain of winter…. Damn Rossby Waves ;-)

    If you are on the “cold side” of the “loopy jet stream” you are cold and wet / snowed. If you are on the “warm side” it’s back to the good old days of “global warming” pleasantness. Now if the “climate scientists” would expain:

    1) Why it goes loopy during a cold phase PDO / AMO / etc.

    2) How averaging temperatures deals with the loopy vs non-loopy state in a sane way

    we might start to learn something about our temperature history…
    (Hint: #2 can not be done…)

    Ah, well. Back at the Rainy Side Of Life… At least I don’t have to water the yard… (water bill down, heating bill up… welcome to California…)

  13. John F. Hultquist says:

    E. M.,
    You will find the comment by John Petersen interesting. He is a former director and common stock owner of Axion Power International – mentioned in the text.
    (Full disclosure: I have a small investment in one of the companies (MXWL) mentioned and while searching for news, found this.)

    To put oil in its proper perspective, the following table summarizes global production data for several critical natural resources.

    This statement is followed by a small table – the source of the numbers isn’t given. Have a look.


  14. E.M.Smith says:

    @John F. Hultquist:

    He’s got it just about right. I usually call this problem the ‘fleet replacement problem’ as you must replace every vehicle on the planet and that simply can not be done in under 20 years nor for less than $Trillions of dollars.

    Taking his number of 2.4 kg/head of copper per year, if it takes about 24 kg to make all the electric vehicles you need (not just your own car, but the garbage trucks and buses and trains and ships and…) per capita, then that is a full decade of global production. No new homes, powerlines or generators (to feed those new vehicles…) etc.

    Now a motor with 50 lbs of copper in it sounds heavy, but that’s not that far off. Especially when you start adding all the power cables and chargers and charger cables and…

    Even if you were able to increase global production capacity by 50%, that means a 20 year solution… and I don’t know where we would be getting a 50% increase in copper production…

    Now add in the copper needed for the windmills to charge them all…

    IMHO, it is POSSIBLE to move significant capacity of travel onto electric means and we OUGHT to be doing it. But as part of a 40 year slow conversion of about 1/2 the capacity.

    For the rest, the only reasonable choice right now is “change the fuel, not the fleet” and use coal to liquids to do it.

    But folks don’t want to hear that. So we will run headlong into the technological and economic limits as our clueless politicians try to play automotive Engineer and resource Geologist and fail miserably at it as they are completely ill equiped.

    Why lawyers like to think that a law degree confers understanding of engineering and economics is beyond me. But I’ve seen it manifest over decades and on all continents, so it’s something in how they are constituted or trained that is fundamentally broken. Or maybe it’s just the lawyers that go into politics that are fundamentally broken… Whatever.

    Once folks think that the laws of economics, the laws of geology, and the physical laws that govern engineering are subject to legislation they never let go of that notion until they crash and burn. So I suggest you buy that Nomex Liesure Suit and order up some popcorn…

  15. Jason Calley says:

    @ John F. Hultquist Interesting article about the natural resources needed for a technology change over. I do not think that anyone who has done serious thought on the subject still thinks that the change from oil based transportation to electric is a simple proposition.

    I had an interesting idea on that subject some decades back… Assuming that we did, in fact, have a supply of relatively cheap electric power (maybe nuclear?) we still would not want to invest any more resources than we had to in getting rid of petroleum powered cars and trucks. Heck, as your linked article points out, copper is not cheap, and we already have massive amounts of capital tied up in existing internal combustion engines. It’s a shame there is not some way to run IC engines on electricity… Of course you could make hydrogen, but then you have high pressure tanks or exotic hydrides to store the fuel in. Aha! Use your cheap electricity to make calcium carbide. This is 150 year old technology. Combine powdered limestone or marble with powdered coal and run an electric arc through it to produce CaC2. The process can be varied and controled to be quite efficient. The calcium carbide looks and feels like lumps of gray gravel, but when water is added it converts to acetylene gas and wet CaO. Add a natural gas carburetor on your car and run it on acetylene! The CaO can be recycled back into the process to replace the limestone in making the next batch. This same process was used to run gas lights and (I think) home electric generators back in the late 19th – early 20th centuries. One would have to figure out how best to relace the regular gas tanks with the CaC2 tanks, but that’s what engineers are for. I would be surprised if change over costs (done on a large scale) were more than a thousand dollars per vehicle, and the steel used would be not much more than the scrap tanks pulled out of each car.

  16. Jason Calley says:

    @ E.M. “Or maybe it’s just the lawyers that go into politics that are fundamentally broken… Whatever.
    Once folks think that the laws of economics, the laws of geology, and the physical laws that govern engineering are subject to legislation they never let go of that notion until they crash and burn. ”

    Oh, it’s worse than you think!

  17. Jeff Alberts says:

    I’ve got two 400w inverters for the vehicles.

    When I started my latest job of repairing wheelchairs, I found the mini maglite was just too pathetic. I ended up with a Fenix LD20 which I keep in my cargo pocket at all times while at work. I keep it on the brightest setting, since I’m only using it for 10-30 seconds at a time. But it’s got several modes and brightness settings, including an SOS mode. Very sturdy, have dropped it on concrete several times and it barely nicked the paint. Best of all it runs on two AA batteries. Been using it for over a year now. I may have to get another one for the emergency kit, or to keep in the car.

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