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RVelectricity – Just Ask Mike (J.A.M.) Session: The rise of solar generator power stations

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.


 


Dear Readers,

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.

The launch of the Jackery brand-new product kicks off at at 8 p.m. PDT on #JackeryDay 5/12. Watch the livestream product release worldwide on the Jackery official website and social media.  
👉https://www.jackery.com/pages/jackery-day (This link goes to the Jackery Day page from last year. It will be updated for the May 12th kickoff.)

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.

You don’t want to miss Mike’s webcasts on his YouTube channel.

For information on how to support RVelectricity and No~Shock~Zone articles, seminars and videos, please click the I Like Mike Campaign

RVDT1851;##RVT1051


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Marc Stauffer
9 days ago

I installed an Ecoflo Delta Max in my 14 foot travel trailer as an alternative to the small battery it came with and as it was less expensive than adding individual components. 375 watts of solar keep it charged and I can run everything I need when boondocking. When there is not enough sun, my Honda 2200i will charge it to full capacity in an hour. So far so good!

cee
21 days ago

Great review Mike 👏

I’ve had a Jackery 300 for a year in my RV. My energy needs are minimal when boondocking but I love my Jackery for charging my phone, tablet, laptop, USB fans, portable DVD player, etc. I’m impressed how long it lasts. Another way to charge it is to plug it into the 9-volt while driving. It’s small, lightweight & perfect for my needs ⚡️⚡️⚡️

Steve
22 days ago

If a person with a “solar generator” wants to add some inexpensive solar panels to it, I recently stumbled on a bargain. Harbor Freight had their nearly square, aluminum-framed, monocrystalline, 100w portable solar panel with legs and an SAE plug in a “Black Friday” sale (in April?), so I bought one. When I got it home, I tested it without a load with my multimeter. I aimed it at the optimum sun angle for April 12 at 4:15 pm at a latitude of 39.42 degrees N, with a temperature of 59 degrees, an 8 mph breeze, and an altitude of 5682′. The results averaged out to 6.42A at 22.5v for an open-circuit 144.45 watts. Although admittedly tested under essentially ideal conditions, I was astonished by the result because most of what I buy from Harbor Freight is a one-time use, “throw-away” item. I soldered some SAE plugs onto 25′ of 2 conductor,10 AWG wire I had in my shop. The panel will now provide a portable, remote power supply for the RV when boondocking under trees.

Paul Bradshaw
22 days ago

I’ve been looking for ways to charge the battery for my fishing trolling motor. This looks to be a decent option (a bit pricy but what isn’t these days). Not sure if the 12V DC out wire can be setup for the trolling motor, but definitely worth researching as a 24 pound unit is way less than a lead acid or AGM battery. I think they may be missing a great sales opportunity by not covering this application.

Kent
22 days ago

I bought an Ecolab Solar Power generator to add to my van so i can recharge my eBike batteries while out camping and riding. Solar panel helps regenerate the Ecolab. Love it.

STEVE
22 days ago

I wish people would stop calling them generators. They just STORE power produced by something else. They don’t generate squat. People get all excited thinking they have a way to produce power (like a generator does). They DON”T. The units have to be plugged in to shore power or solar panels to charge them up. A Lithium battery connected to an inverter would work just as well and probably be cheaper.

Mike Sokol
22 days ago
Reply to  STEVE

I tried calling them Portable Solar Power Stations, but that’s confusing to readers as well…

Last edited 22 days ago by Mike Sokol
Steven Peterson
22 days ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

Mike – what I found interesting is many of us already have these (maybe less the solar panels) built into our RV’s for residential frigs – i.e. batteries and inverters! Same-same! Just saying! Thanks

Bob Palin
21 days ago

They are not the same at all – can you run your hedge trimmer on one like the one in the article was used for? They have a variety of standard outlets, are portable, have several methods of charging, and are significantly more flexible and convenient than the inverter running your fridge (both mine are propane anyway). I think they are too expensive and don’t want one, but I can see their usefulness.

Crowman
22 days ago

The sale of all engines up to 25 HP will be banned in this stupidly run State. That means generators, lawn equipment, portable pressure washers, construction tools, etc will be on the banned list. You can get what you have serviced and repaired even though Mike said that would be banned. Oh yeah we’re not as stupid here as the politicians that if we want one of the banned items to drive over the 3 neighboring States to buy what we want and need. We all do that now on thing like below freezing window washing fluid for our vehicles.

Glenn A
22 days ago
Reply to  Crowman

I see an entrepreneurial opportunity for small engine repair and sales in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon near the California border. My wife and I had this discussion about the California small engine ban last week.

Mike Sokol
22 days ago
Reply to  Crowman

I don’t think all repairs for portable gasoline generators will be banned, but RV dealerships may not be able to get parts and may stop servicing them. It’s all confusing right now.,

Dave
22 days ago

Expensive way to run a few small things. I’ll run a 100 foot extension cord or use gas tool if needed. Glad I’m not in California. As someone said, this is not a generator. “Generator” in this case is a sales pitch.

Bob Palin
22 days ago

The Jackery 1000 appears to be available right now from the Jackery site. The web page for it has a lot of useful information about what you can run for how long.

Basic facts are:
“It features a 1002Wh(46.4Ah) lithium battery capacity, 1000W continuous and 2000W surge power.”

Note that it has a LI NMC battery pack like those for power tools (rather than LiFePO4) and that it is rated for 500 duty cycles.

https://www.jackery.com/products/explorer-1000-portable-power-station

Last edited 22 days ago by Bob Palin
John
22 days ago

Great article! How do I run stuff in the RV, coffe maker, fridge, AC, etc., using a power station as it doesn’t have a 30 amp outlet? Thanks in advance.

Bob Palin
22 days ago
Reply to  John

It doesn’t have enough power to run all that stuff.

Mike Sokol
22 days ago
Reply to  John

It won’t replace a 3,000 watt inverter, so it can’t do what you’re asking. But it’s great for portable applications as is noted.

John
22 days ago
Reply to  John

I meant how would I run the appliances that are wired in. I know I couldn’t run all at once, but how could I plug in the small roof air conditioner for an hour, for example?

Bob Palin
21 days ago
Reply to  John

You can do this rather easily, and I do all the time. Run a heavy duty extension cord from the regular outlet on the Jackery to your 30A input and use a converter to connect them. I run my rig from a 2000W inverter for weeks at a time like this in the winter (no A/C needed). You’ll have to check how much power your A/C needs to see if this will work for you.

Jesse
22 days ago
Reply to  John

You can get something a bit larger like the EcoFlow Delta Pro, which does have a 30A outlet (and the inverter and battery capacity to match). Or just use a plug adapter and the 15A outlet on smaller units, but keep in mind that you won’t be able to run everything at once, and some higher-power appliances may not work at all.

Bob p
22 days ago

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but unless you get the solar panels this and all the others are not “solar generators” but merely a battery/inverter power supply. Therefore IMHO they are false advertising.

Scott R. Ellis
22 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

No, no, they’re an OVERPRICED battery/inverter power supply. Let’s get it right. 😀

Mike Sokol
22 days ago
Reply to  Bob p

They really need the solar panels for off-grid use. But that’s what all the different manufacturers call them. They are indeed a lithium battery with an inverter and a solar charge controller, along with a pretty accurate SoC display.

Ran
22 days ago

How will this work for a house fridge in our RV? (It only runs on electric), which we have 550 watts of solar, Magnum Pure 2000W pure sine wave inverter. Overnight, it will run the AGM batteries down a ways! I just wanna be able to make 2 cups of coffee before the sun comes up, without sucking all the batteries down to 10.5, and/or shutting down the inverter!

Bob Palin
22 days ago
Reply to  Ran

If your batteries are that low in the morning you really just need more batteries, or switch to lithium which won’t be damaged by such a deep discharge (although 10.5V is too low for them too). You could use the portable power supply inside the RV to power your coffee maker directly from its inverter if you need to.

Mike Sokol
22 days ago
Reply to  Ran

Residential refrigerators use a lot of energy and are not designed for off-grid camping. So you would need a lot more batteries and solar panels to be able to power them while boondocking. I’ve found that 12-volt DC Danfoss compressor refrigerators use about 1/2 to 1/3 of the energy of a 120-volt AC fridge.
Electric coffee makers are another energy hog. I’ve calculated it uses around 5% of the capacity of a 100 amp-hr battery for each cup of cappuccino from my Keurig. So 2 cups of electric coffee could use 10% of your battery reserve. Anything with an electric heater is a high power user.

Last edited 22 days ago by Mike Sokol
Rexford L
21 days ago
Reply to  Mike Sokol

Just get an old fashioned perculator coffee pot and use it on the propane stove. You can also use them over a campfire.

Steve
22 days ago
Reply to  Ran

When boondocking in places like Alaska in our travel trailer, we had a much cheaper and simpler solution to morning coffee-making. We heated water in a tea kettle on the propane stove, then poured the water into a 6-cup Melitta glass carafe coffee maker. The coffee dripped through a paper filter just like a Mr. Coffee, but used no power and only 5 minutes worth of propane. Personalky, I couldn’t tell the difference in taste between the all-manual Melitta and a K-cup, when using the same brand of coffee. The negative: you have to drink it immediately because there is no electric hot plate or microwave to warm it. Ah, such a hardship!

But times have certainly changed in the last decade. Now our RV has 400w of solar, 220Ah of lithium battery, a 2000w inverter, a 3600w propane generator, and a one-cup Keurig. Not much different than being at home!

Mike Sokol
22 days ago
Reply to  Steve

I just got back from 10 days in Italy and enjoyed lots of cappuccino and espresso every day, along with fabulous Chianti at every meal. Looks like I’m getting a stovetop espresso maker for my birthday so I’ll be reporting on that vintage technology next month…. Everything old is new again!