As I watched my husband open the package containing the Humless Solar Generator (Sentinel model) that had just arrived in the mail, I knew I had no real chance of writing this review. It was like watching a kid on Christmas morning; his eyes were wide with excitement and the amount of "oooohs" and "ahhhs" were too numerous to count.
Be sure and read through to the end because not only did my "big kid" of a husband do a really thorough review, but you'll have a chance to win one for yourself. Or you might win a one month supply of food, making this one of the most "power"-full giveaways ever presented here on Are We Crazy, Or What?
Guest Post by Bill Osuch:
Most solar generators contain the same basic components, whether it's a small homemade one like I built, or a larger unit like this.
Solar generator components:
- Input connectors - You need some way to get power in, whether it's from a solar panel, wall outlet, or something else.
- Charge controller - This protects the battery (or batteries) by basically acting as a switch to keep them from overcharging.
- Battery - You have to have some way to hold the juice, right?
- Inverter (optional) - Batteries supply DC (Direct Current) power, but most household stuff runs on AC (alternating current). The inverter converts the DC to AC. (I didn't have one in my little homemade version, since I only plan on using small DC-powered devices.)
- Output connectors - You have to have something to plug your devices into, whether it is a wall-type socket, cigarette lighter, USB port, or something else.
The heart of this solar powered set-up is the Humless Sentinel. This is a 18" x 10" x 12" unit that weights about 40 pounds. It contains the batteries, electronics (such as the charge controller and inverter), and all the various input and output connectors. There is also a push-button charge indicator that displays the charge level in "bars" (similar to your cell phone), as well as a key switch to turn the whole unit on and off.
So, speaking of input and output connectors, here's what you get:
- An AC connector to charge from a wall socket. This will be your quickest way of charging the unit if you are not in a "grid down" situation (for instance, you're just taking it camping and want to top it off). The manufacturer says you should be able to charge the unit in about 2.5 hours.
- A pair of DC plugs to connect the solar panel. With two plugs you can actually connect two sets of solar panels for faster charging, although we were only testing with one.
- A pair of DC posts that you could clip various types of wires or connectors to. You could use a car battery, a hand crank generator (more on that later), or anything else that delivers DC power.
- A pair of AC outlets rated at 1000 watts.
- 4 USB connectors - 2 for regular devices like cell phones and iPods, and 2 that deliver more current for devices like iPads and tablets.
- A cigarette lighter receptacle.
- A pair of DC plugs similar to the solar panel inputs. Honestly, I'm not sure what you would connect to these, perhaps a homemade device of some sort, but they are there if you need them.
The case is made from metal, with a zippered cover over the main control panel, a storage pouch for cables, and a carrying handle as well as a shoulder strap. It has vents cut into the side (all those electronics can get pretty hot), so it is definitely not weather-proof; you'll want to make sure it's sheltered from any nasty elements.
Since this is a solar generator, you'll need a solar panel to charge it. We received a pair of folding panels that measure 26" x 21" x 3" when folded, and 26" x 42" when opened (they ship with this set-up). They weigh about 20 pounds, so everything is still very portable. A pair of folding legs allow you to position the panels at the best angle to catch the sun.
One of my only complaints on the panels is the locking screw used to set the angle - it's a small, flat knob that is only about 1/16" thick; even under ideal conditions I sometimes found I was not getting it tight enough and the legs would collapse. A person with some arthritis in their hands, or someone wearing gloves would have an even more difficult time. I would suggest that the manufacturer replace this with a screw or knob with a better gripping surface.
The panels have a cable that is about 2 feet long, so you will not be able to place them a long distance away from the Sentinel unit. You wouldn't want to anyway; the longer the cable the more current you will lose due to resistance of the wire, and with a small set of solar panels you want every bit of juice you can get.
The Sentinel came to us fully charged, but we wanted to test the charging times first, so we proceeded to drain it. We hooked up a few USB devices, a DC lamp, and a household fan and just let them run overnight. Eventually the unit started beeping, indicating a low battery, and the charge indicator showed "empty".
The next morning we took everything out into the sun, hooked it up, saw the little LED light up indicating we had power coming in from the solar panel, and left it to charge all day. At the end of the day, I pushed the button to check the battery level, and... nothing. No juice at all in the battery. OK, we figured maybe it takes a while to charge it once it's totally dead, so we left it out a second day, only to get the same results. The battery level indicator was not lighting up, and the low battery alarm was still going off when the AC outlet was switched on. A quick phone call to SurvialBased.com tech support revealed that even though the red light was on (meaning we had power from the solar panels), the power does not get to the battery until you actually turn the key on. It actually mentions this in the manual, which I did not bother to read; I guess I should have!
So, when day 3 rolled around, it was back outside with the key turned on. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day, so we never had really bright sunlight on the solar panels at any time, but even so the unit was about 50% charged by the afternoon. I have no doubt it would have been fully charged had we had our normal Texas sun.
One thing to remember when working with solar panels is that the sun is moving through the sky all day long. So, if you point the solar panels directly at it first thing in the morning, then by lunchtime you'll find they're not getting much light. Ideally I suppose you could go out and re-orient the panels every hour or so, but obviously this is going to be a hassle. The best compromise is to figure out the path the sun takes overhead, and align the panels so they have the maximum amount of light for the maximum time.
The manufacturer states that the batteries can be recharged at least 2,000 times, so that's 5 years of use if you were discharging them every day. The unit will also hold a charge for over 12 months, but obviously at this point there is no way for us to test that! The batteries are lithium iron phosphate rather than the standard lead acid batteries used in many storage systems; I don't know anything about the physics behind it, but they charge faster, hold a charge longer, and can be discharged and recharged more times than other types of batteries.
The Sentinel will allow you to connect up to 3 DC devices and 1 AC device at the same time. Actually, you can physically connect more than that, but that is just what the manual says is the limit. The more power your device draws, the shorter the battery life will be. So, how long can you actually use this for?
Since we didn't have weeks to charge and discharge the generator and record the results, I'll repeat some of the statistics the Humless folks give. They state you can get up to 100 hours for a CB radio, 20 hours for a 19" LCD TV, 25-50 hours for a CPAP machine, and "a few hours" for a standard refrigerator.
Your mileage may vary of course. Also, this doesn't take into account the fact that if you're drawing power out during the day, as long as the sun is out you're putting power back in via the solar panels.
There are some high-power appliances that you simply won't be able to run with this; it's just not designed to run something like your oven or air conditioner. In fact, if you try to run something like an oven, even just a toaster oven, then you're looking at a battery life of minutes rather than hours.
Now, if you purchase appliances that run off 12 volts DC power instead of AC power, you'll be able to extend the battery life even further. Check out these cool DC appliances: a refrigerator, a fan, a portable stove, a coffee maker and a defroster.
The Sentinel also comes with a 30 watt hand crank generator. With 15 minutes of cranking, you can charge the Sentinel enough to run a 5 watt LED light for about 2 hours. You probably wouldn't want to try using this to fully charge the unit, but it would be good if you're out of power and just need a bit of light, or to top off a dead cell phone. I think if we were keeping this I would try to figure out how to hook it up to a stationary bicycle (these products are loaners; see disclaimer at the end).
We also got to try Humless' 10 watt floodlight (sold separately). This light comes on a collapsible tripod that raises to over 7 feet tall, and has a cable that plugs into the DC socket. This would be great for a campsite at night. The picture below was taken at night, so you can actually see the generator in action.
Finally, we got to try out the Humless tactical flashlight (sold separately). This light produces an amazing 250 lumens and has 3 brightness levels, plus a strobe light that can be used as an emergency signal. It has a lithium ion battery that can be recharged up to 400 times, and the charger plugs into the Sentinel or any wall outlet. On high power it's almost too bright, and it can definitely compete with some of the larger Maglite models.
The flashlight is pictured above. Below you can see the battery for the flashlight plugged into the generator.
The Humless Sentinel is not intended to replace a big, loud gasoline-powered generator. It is designed to power a few basic necessities in a quiet, efficient, portable manner.
The Humless unit is also more expensive than a gas generator, but just in the initial investment. If you figure a typical generator burns about half a gallon of gas per hour, then if you use the generator 6 hours per day, at today's prices per gallon you will have spent as much in gas as the cost of the Humless in less than a year. Assuming you are still able to buy gas, of course.
Another advantage of the Humless is noise - there is none. You can take it camping and not have the sounds of the night ruined by a loud machine, and in a SHTF situation, you're not painting a target on your location with the noise.
Our good friends at Survival Based have graciously sponsored this group mega giveaway. Not only do you have a chance to win a Humless Solar Generator but you also have a chance to win a one month food supply. See my review on freeze dried food sold by Survival Based. There will be two winners: the first winner wins the generator and the second winner wins the food supply. Enter Below!
Seventeen preparedness/self-reliance bloggers have teamed up with SurvivalBased.com to offer you this awesome giveaway as a way to say thank you for your support!
There will be two winners!
The 1st lucky winner will receive a Fuel-less Portable Solar Generator by Humless (Approx. Retail Value $2599) and the 2nd lucky winner will receive a One Month Supply Kit by Food Supply Depot (Food for 2 adults & 2 kids. Approx. Retail Value $1119).
All you have to do to enter is fill out the Rafflecopter form below by signing in with your Facebook account or email address. (We’ll need this info in order to contact you if you win.)
Start by clicking Easy Entry for Everyone (no social media accounts required) below and after that each +1 that you click is another entry to win! That equals up to 35 entries per person!
The giveaway begins September 23, 2013 and ends on September 30, 2013 at 11:59 PM, EST. The winners will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is drawn.
You must be 18 years or older to enter. Prizes will be shipped to U.S. residents only. Residents of other countries may enter but will be responsible for paying the shipping cost.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Disclaimer: We received a demo unit at no charge. We do not get to keep it, though, so I feel this review is as unbiased as possible. Also, this post contains affiliate links. When you click on a link and make a purchase, I might make a small commission. However, the amount that you pay will not change. Blogging takes a lot of time and it also costs money. There are fees for domain registration, hosting and software. So your support by purchasing things through my site helps to keep this blog going. Thanks for your support!