Welcome to my J.A.M. (Just Ask Mike) Session, a weekly column where I answer your basic electrical questions. If you’re a newbie who’s never plugged in a shore power cord (or ask – what’s a shore power cord?), or wonder why your daughter’s hair dryer keeps tripping the circuit breaker, this column is for you. Send your questions to Mike Sokol at mike (at) noshockzone.org with the subject line – JAM. Today I discuss solar generator power stations, particularly the Jackery brand.
A few years ago I wrote an article about the so-called solar generators that were getting popular. I didn’t like them much at the time since they suffered from limited AGM battery power and exaggerated inverter output claims of what they could power. In fact, many of those advertisements were outright misleading, showing impossible applications such as charging your EV car on the side of the road. But that was then, and this is now!
Technology marches forward!
To get a better handle on this technology I made a few inquiries about the latest solar power stations and found that our intrepid RVtravel.com writer Tony Barthel had already reviewed a product from Jackery called the Explorer 1500. So, a few quick emails and Jackery sent me an Explorer 1500 along with 400 watts of portable solar panels. And this thing is GREAT! I could power a 1,200 watt electric heater for more than an hour, and even start and run a rooftop air conditioner for nearly hour. Now, it was just a demonstration, and I don’t expect that to be a real-world application. But the Jackery Explorer 1500 does everything they say it can do.
Enter the Jackery Explorer 300
I also tried out the Jackery Explorer 300 for my articles on musicians playing gigs on battery power alone. This is in response to the 2.5 million weddings that need to happen in 2022 due to COVID venue shutdowns in 2020 and 2021. The idea is that weddings can use outside venues (like the beach or the woods) if only there were a way to power a band for a few hours without a noisy generator. And, indeed, the Explorer 300 does that nicely for 2 hours with a small band.
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Goldilocks had it right (the Explorer 1000)
We all remember the story of Goldilocks and the three bears. The first bowl of porridge was too hot, and the second was too cold, but the third was just right. With that in mind, perhaps there are off-grid camping situations where the Explorer 1500 is too heavy and the 300 doesn’t have quite enough power?
How I tested the Explorer 1000
I did several real-world tests with the Explorer 1000 last week, and it passed every one of them. First up, I needed to use my pellet smoker to make food for my hungry kids. Interestingly, a pellet smoker only needs 200 to 300 watts of power for the first 5 or 10 minutes to ignite the pellets. After that it only needs 30 or 40 watts to power the auger and fan for the temperature control.
But I also wanted to try out my new smoke tube to add 3 or 4 hours of additional smoke to the meats. And while they suggested you use a propane torch to ignite it, I happened to have a 1,000-watt heat gun on my bench.
So after I got my Z-Grill smoker fired up, I also used the Explorer 1000 to simultaneously power the 1000-watt heat gun to light my smoker tube. And in about a minute I had fire! After that it was easy sailing for the Explorer 1000 to run the pellet smoker for the next 5 hours. And there was still 75% of its battery storage left. Yippie!
I calculate that if you added the 200 watts of optional solar panels, you could smoke meat on a pellet grill every day FOREVER! Or at least until you run out of brisket and pellets. What a great tool for tailgating parties as well as off-grid camping….
Yard work is never done
I needed to get out my hedge trimmer for some serious cutting on the faux bamboo that’s been invading my yard. And my little battery-powered trimmer would hardly run 20 minutes before it was discharged.
I didn’t feel like running 200 feet of extension cord or starting up a portable generator to power my 120-volt hedge trimmer. So I tried the Explorer 1000 to power it. It worked brilliantly. My calculations show that the Explorer 1000 could easily power the hedge trimmer for at least 4 hours of heavy cutting. And if you added the 200 watts of solar panels, it could extend your cutting time to at least 8 hours, as long as the sun was shining. Now I don’t have any excuse not the finish cutting down all the faux bamboo.
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But what about the beer?
Yes, after a hard day’s work of hedge trimming or watching the pellet smoker make ribs and brisket, wouldn’t it be great to enjoy a cold beer? I happen to have a Vitrifrigo 12-volt DC refrigerator/freezer. It can be set for any temperature down to -7 degrees F.
So I set it up in the back lot of my Funkworks Lab along with a pair of 100-watt solar panels to see how long it would power the Danfoss compressor in the fridge. It not only powered the Vitrifrigo fridge at a perfect 34 degrees all day, it also gathered so much extra solar power that it recharged the Explorer 1000 battery to 100% by the afternoon.
My calculations show that the Explorer 1000 could easily power my pellet smoker all afternoon while I was simultaneously using the hedge trimmer for hours, and at the same time keeping my beer in the Vitrifrigo refrigerator at the perfect temperature.
Will it replace my RV house batteries?
I would say no…. please keep your RV house batteries, inverters and solar panels if you’ve got them. But this new solar power station technology is a great addition to whatever you currently have in your RV. And this also makes a great emergency backup power source for your house if the power goes out.
No, it won’t run your house air conditioner or stove. But it can easily power your refrigerator and internet connections along with a few fans for days, especially if you add the solar panels (which I highly recommend). This is extra important if you’re located in California where there’s a ban coming soon on the sales and service of gasoline portable generators. I can see an Explorer 1000 being a great backup power source for those times that the power goes out for days.
And Jackery Day is next week!
I was able to get a review sample of the Explorer 1000 before it was available to the general population, but soon it will be available for anyone to purchase from the link below. And no, I don’t get paid for these reviews. I just want to pass on my studies on renewable energy. The less fuel we need to use, the less we need to purchase from other countries and the less we pollute our atmosphere—and those are all good things.
So are these solar power station generators for everyone?
I would say no. If you need lots of continuous power, then get a portable inverter generator. If you must run everything in your house at the same time when the power goes out, then get a whole-house generator. And if you really want to be energy independent, than get enough solar panels and batteries for the house to run everything off-grid. However, for many of us these new solar power station generators are a great solution.
What about tailgating parties?
I think this technology could be the greatest tailgating and boondocking accessory ever! Make new friends while turning your rivals green with envy. But give everyone who stops by a taste of your smoked brisket or ribs.
OK, everyone. Remember that electricity is a useful and powerful force, so we all need to pay attention to safety precautions while using it.
Let’s play safe out there….
Send your questions to me at my new RVelectricity forum here.
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
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