Going Solar in Liberia: Buying Guide

This post is really for future Peace Corps Liberia volunteers, although others interested in solar / survival may find this information useful as well

In my previous post, I explained the things you should be looking for in a solar system. In this post, I was going to compare the pros and cons of a number of systems I looked at before I came to Liberia.

But then someone on the Peace Corps Technology facebook group drew my attention to the kits Voltaic Systems sells… And I fell in love. They look like amazing systems on all counts, AND they give a Peace Corps discount. I really wish I knew about these guys before I got my system last year!!

These kits get top marks in all the categories I mentioned in my last post: useful panel / battery sizes, weatherproof and capable of being bolted down. And best of all, they’re modular which allows you to keep your panel outside while the rest of your system is indoors AND interchange and upgrade parts as you need to. So good!

Please, get one of these systems. Don’t mess around with anything else. And be sure to show it to me when you get in country. I’ll do my best to not drool all over it.

So, for the remainder of this post I’ve modified my buying guide to be a “here’s a couple of other systems on the market and I’ll tell you why they suck in comparison to the Voltaic Systems ones”-guide.

Orange Joos

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Price: $150
Panel size: 2.5Watts
Battery capacity: 5400mAH
Durability: Excellent
Stealability: Easily stolen. Lock it up!

This is a cool system, and looks very rugged. (It can charge underwater!) But it’s easy to steal (it’s not modular!), has a small-ish panel, and at $150 is pretty expensive.

Instapark 10W

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Price: $50
Panel size: 10W
Battery capacity: No battery!
Durability: Not too good. Fabric falls apart and not waterproof.
Stealability: Easily stolen. Lock it up!

Having a 10W panel is wonderful, but there’s no battery on this thing! It’s also not very durable and not easy to lock up.

Opteka 4000mAh

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Price: $23
Panel size: 1.25W
Battery capacity: 4000mAH
Durability: Alright, but I wouldn’t get it wet…
Stealability: Small, very easily stolen. And hard to lock up.

This guy has a nice battery, but that’s it. The panel is too small and it’s easy to steal. Don’t bother with it.

My System

While I was packing for Liberia, I had no idea about the Voltaic System kits. So I sort of tried to make my own.

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As you can see, right now I just put the panel on my front porch in a laundry tub and the rest of the electronics in a small basket. I haven’t had problems with people bothering it because I’m in a small community and it’s too big to really run off with. But I don’t have it out unless I’m keeping an eye on it from my window. Eventually, I’ll rig up a way to set the panel on the roof while keeping everything else inside.

Here’s a view inside the basket (I keep a towel draped over it to shield it from the sun and wandering eyes):

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What you’re looking at is this $40, 5W panel and 12V charge controller, a $5 12V to USB converter and a $30 12V 7.5Ah deep cycle battery I found in Monrovia. So altogether it was about $75. But as I mentioned before, I’ll recoup that if it lasts a year. Charging a phone here is about 20LD ($0.25) if you want to do your own calculations.

Here’s my system being used to charge a laptop (I’m using an inverter a friend gave me before I left for Liberia):

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But it takes about 2 days in the sun to develop enough charge to charge my laptop for an hour. So it’s only good for emergencies, really. I’d want a bigger panel and a larger battery before I thought I could get serious use out of it with my laptop.

———————–

In conclusion, get a kit from Voltaic Systems.

If any of this info was helpful to you, please let me know! Feel free to message me with any questions!

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