A hurricane did little when it passed through New England a couple months ago, but a fairly standard snowstorm on Oct. 29 knocked down trees and power lines all over the state. My family and friends were all safe, but it was still a rough time for me without a way to charge all my electronics. They’re sort of like family.
I should’ve been more prepared with alternative chargers. Who needs the grid with other sources of energy?
One thing to watch out for is that your chosen solution provides the right voltage and amperage for your device. A dumb “universal” charger might, in the best case, not provide enough juice to actually charge your battery. Worst case, your precious electronics get fried. The original charger should list the specs right on it.
Even chargers with USB ports can’t necessarily be trusted; while the USB standard specifies 5 volts at 500 milliamps, phone chargers often increase those numbers. My Droid Bionic, for example, sucks down 5.1 volts at 850 milliamps. If it knows it’s connected to a computer’s USB port, it can compensate and just charge more slowly, but a straight electrical USB connection doesn’t work.
So with those caveats out of the way…
• Solar: The best solar chargers incorporate a small battery of their own so they can store power for later use and provide a steady trickle of power rather than spurts only when they’re in direct sunlight. Make sure to look for voltage and amperage information on the output port. Pickings in this category used to be slim, but they’ve really expanded the last few years. Check for offerings from Sunpak, Sunforce, Lenmar, Solio and dozens of other brands. Outdoorsy companies like L.L. Bean and EMS sometimes rebrand those same chargers for their stores. They also might incorporate flashlights and radios. If you’re tremendously lucky, they might even list specific phones that can be charged, but you’re (slightly) more likely to see voltage and amperage specs.
• Crank: What’s even more variable than the strength of sunlight? Your hand. Even at what you consider a steady rate, the speed of your hand turning a crank changes so much, even during a single rotation, that your device needs to be tolerant of fluctuations in order for this to be a practical solution. The cheap ones in the pre-wrapped gift section of the department store still have older, simpler phones in mind; if there’s no voltage and amperage output information, steer clear.
• Bigger batteries: When you really want a replacement power source but can’t set up a generator, a large battery pack can provide the juice you need — as long as it’s kept charged beforehand. Smaller ones often take the form of car jump-starters, complete with clamps to attach to a vehicle’s battery. They’ll usually include a single 12-volt DC outlet. But they get bigger, with more outlets and more amp-hour capacity to power more devices for longer.
Xantrex really comes into its own in this category. Their XPower 400+ has a 20-amp-hour battery, one 12-volt DC outlet and a two-outlet, 400-watt AC inverter. The XPower 1500 has a whopping 51-amp-hour battery and a 1500-watt inverter with the same outlets. Storing grid AC power in a DC battery, converting it to AC with the inverter and back to DC again with an electronic device charger is a little silly (and wastes energy every time there’s a conversion), but if that’s what you got, that’s what you got.
Hope you have power so you can visit twitter.com/CitizenjaQ.