How My EV & Jackery Solar Generator Got Me Through A Long Power Outage

Environment

A Microburst Cuts Us Off From The Grid

June is always very dry in most of the southwest United States, and it’s the hottest month of the year. Phoenix often approaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49C) and sometimes tops it, while other high desert lowlands spend days at a time with highs over 110F (43C). Between this dryness and heat, along with the occasional exhaust pipe or cigarette butt that comes in contact with dry grass, all hell breaks loose. While this process is certainly intensified by climate change, a dry June has been the norm since the last glacial period in the region.

This doesn’t stop various church groups from staging big events or sermons to ask God to bring the rains back during the final days of June. Almost like clockwork, at least one preacher or other religious leader in most towns will ask their congregation to pray really hard for the rains to come back. Some people, moved by the preacher’s sermon, will even skip meals to show the god they believe in just how committed they are to getting rain.

And, like clockwork, the rains come back during the first few days of July when the winds shift and draw moisture back into the region. The people who know about the annual monsoon are glad to see the rains when they return, but the church people take them as proof of the power of prayer and fasting, and are sure to give the church more money to spread the good word. Also, desert toads come out of the dirt and begin their mating season, so they’re probably happier than any of us about the monsoon storms.

Within a few days of the first rains of the season, as more moisture rolls into the area, nature reminds the congregations to be careful what they wish for. As Alan Parrish (played by Robin Williams) said in Jumanji: a lot of rain can kill you.

On July 11th, people living in southern New Mexico learned that lesson again, probably for the 12,000th time. A really nice supercell thunderstorm, complete with a wall cloud, kicked up and ran headlong through New Mexico’s second largest city (which is still pretty small by most states’ standards). One of my apartments at the edge of the city was right in the path of the storm, and I was there when it came through.

An animated GIF image of a microburst. Image by National Weather Service (Public Domain).

A large mass of cold, wet air sitting somewhere in the middle of the storm suddenly dropped from the sky like a bomb, creating a downburst, or microburst. The sudden rush of air created strong winds all over the small city it fell into, downing trees, power lines, and anything else that couldn’t handle the winds. Unfortunately, my little apartment lost its connection to the grid.

I’m One Of The Few Renters With Solar, From A Portable Generator Kit

As much as I’d like to get solar panels on the roof, it’s not my roof. The property’s owner is actually cool with the idea, but Tesla just won’t do a solar install on a roof unless the owner assumes complete control over it, and that’s a sticking point. That doesn’t mean renters can’t do solar, but you have to do a temporary install or use some sort of a portable setup if you want any solar panels at all.

Jackery gave me a solar generator kit earlier this year for review, and after the first review, they sent me a second kit with more power and capacity in its battery bank. The Explorer 1000 could run a toaster oven and most other small appliances, but didn’t have the oomph to run a microwave or do Level 1 EV charging, but the newer Explorer 1500 can run just about anything you can plug into it.

I used the Explorer 1500 to microwave food for the kids, run a small air conditioner unit in a bedroom window to cool a room off before bed, run several small fans, and also run the refrigerator for a few minutes to keep the food from spoiling. I was even able to run an Xbox and TV for a few minutes to give the kids something to do.

One of the great things about the 1500 compared to the 1000 is that it gives you an estimate of the time you have remaining with things plugged into it. Put something like a microwave on it, and it’ll show you that it could only run for under an hour. Fortunately, microwaves don’t need to run for that long, so that wasn’t a big deal. Put a couple of LED lamps on it, and it will estimate 99 hours of time remaining. It’s a great feature that keeps you from having to do math in your head to keep from running it down.

As the hours wore on, the Jackery box started to run low, so we set it to just run lights and fans for us while I found another way to run the refrigerator.

Using My Nissan LEAF As A Giant Battery Bank

While the LEAF’s CHAdeMO port has the capability to do Vehicle-to-Home power (V2H), and possibly Vehicle-to-Grid (V2H), that requires an adapter box Nissan currently doesn’t sell. Sure, for a hefty price, I can get a box from SETEC Power that does this, but I haven’t bothered with that, either.

It turns out, there’s a much easier way to get power from the LEAF (or any EV) in an emergency: the 12 volt battery. You see, the LEAF’s 12 volt battery gets charged by the vehicle’s big lithium battery pack so it doesn’t go dead running your air conditioner fan, infotainment system, lights, etc.. In the LEAF, that charging circuit can supply up to 3000 watts, so you’d have to ask a lot before the LEAF would fall behind or shut the charging circuit off and let that little 12 volt battery go dead.

I got out a cheap 1000 watt inverter, hooked the alligator clamps up to the 12 volt battery, and then ran an extension cord for the fridge and some fans in the house. The cheap inverter I had on hand was pretty finicky, and wouldn’t actually provide the 1000 watts. It also was picky about which order I plugged things in, which required some experimentation. If you buy a better inverter than I did, you shouldn’t have this problem.

In the end, I powered the fridge and a few other small things from the LEAF’s battery pack for about 3 hours. To keep the charging of the 12 volt battery going, I had to leave the LEAF’s “ignition” on and turn the headlights off. I was able to lock the doors to keep the vehicle secure, and the only indicator that it wasn’t just parked and off was the dash display.

When El Paso Electric fixed the power, I saw that the fridge had only drained about 2% of the LEAF’s battery pack, so it could have done this for a lot longer had I needed it to. With a bigger high quality inverter, I could have also run some electric heaters or air conditioners as needed, too.

Final Thoughts

Even if you can’t get Powerwalls, rooftop solar, and other big cool setups for emergencies, renewable energy technology still has you covered.

With any EV, or even a PHEV like a Chevy Volt, you can power your vehicle with clean energy just by tapping into the 12 volt battery and using an inverter. You could probably do this with an ICE car, but it would be hugely wasteful of gas, and possibly bad for the alternator if you pulled enough power for long enough. That makes an EV a much better option.

There are also portable battery-solar kits like the Jackery Explorer 1500 I had on hand. Not only are these a good option for cleanliness and emergencies, but they’re also useful for camping trips and other times when you can’t get an extension cord out far enough.

With these options available, it makes a lot of sense for anyone to jump in. Renewables have everybody’s back, even when other options fail.

All images by Jennifer Sensiba


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