We have been very fortunate with our current location in Central Ohio, in that the inevitable snow storms that bombard us have not resulted in the direct loss of power at our home for any extended period. Many of our neighbors have not been so fortunate. Recent disasters along with a series of really close calls have me thinking about what I could do to mitigate our power risks.

Today I happened upon a YouTube video of Chris Hackett, who in the wake of Hurricane Sandy tried to addressed and solve this problem with a bike and parts one could purchase (or salvage) at a reasonable price. Now I am a software guy today but I have a degree in the Electrical Engineering field and so the fundamentals of this question are not lost on me. Check out the video:

How much work would you have to put in to get some reasonable charge? Chris suggests the following:

Assume someone in good shape, who bikes a lot, can put out 200 watts continuous, 250 peak. A decent deep cycle battery is maybe 80 amp/hr. 80 ampsx12v=960 watt/hours, so call it 5 hours of pedaling. Pretty tough, but if you have a few people trade off, or a couple of chargers wired it becomes reasonable…

So to reiterate, 5 hours of pedaling will fully charge a simple Deep Cycle battery which stores about 0.96kwH. Considering that the average household may use about 12kwH a day this is clearly not a long term solution, but you can get an appreciation of what you still get done given the following hardware devices can consume:-

  • An iPhone draws about 4 Watts.
  • A PC and monitor, could be as much as 120 and 150 Watts respectively.
  • A refrigerator (frost-free) at 725 Watts.
  • Flat screen TV 120 Watts.
  • Clothes Dryer up to 5000 Watts.
  • Water heater up to 5500 Watts.
  • Portable Heater at about 1500 Watts.

Charging your phone, checking a few emails is more than plausible, however, the idea of watching TV all day or leaving a refrigerator, or portable heater running constantly would deplete your hard earned energy in no time.

Alternate Energy Source

So what about Solar? How does that stack up? So if we stick with our current baseline (approximately 200 Watt continuous) then you could purchase a 200-Watt Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit from your local hardware store for approximately $700, and even given 6 hours of optimal sunlight you could store the same energy and avoid the requisite 5 plus hours of biking. The cost of solar is still pretty steep for most of us but I am encouraged to find that prices are falling and that there are more diverse options given your specific emergency energy needs.