3 Clues To Follow When Building Your Energy Stockpile

Like so many other investments in self-reliance, building your energy stockpile is a process, not an event.

For that reason you should start small to build big: get pocket-sized solar power solutions first, then man-portable solar energy means. Finally, you should think about larger alternative energy solutions.

There are clues to consider when choosing your devices, so read this article carefully to find out what’s important in the process.

1. Be Realistic in Your Design

In times when electricity was not yet widely used, cultures over the world engineered passive solar and passive geothermal features into their homes and buildings. The Romans passed laws prohibiting new construction from blocking sunlight from hitting neighboring buildings. It was common practice to calculate the overhang of eaves necessary to warm buildings in winter and cool them in the summer by shading them or allowing light to hit them. Building materials with ample thermal mass were used to collect warmth.

Heated water was pumped through clay pipes. Windows were placed where they would do the most good. In the American southwest adobe and pit houses enjoyed geothermal cooling. Most cliff dwellings were built on South-facing ledges. Ventilation shafts and air deflectors were commonly used. Orientation of predominant breezes were taken into account and structures were placed where they would benefit from evaporative cooling where winds crossed bodies of water.

Electric heating and cooling have been used as an excuse to design fragile buildings. Would it be so terrible for architects to do their jobs? If you have the opportunity to build, I argue that it is better to build a more modest structure in harmony with the correct principles of self-reliance than to squeeze every last square foot out of your budget.

2. Be Realistic in Your Usage

Regardless of the installation and any passive heating or cooling techniques used, you will almost certainly need to also cut back energy usage without functioning electrical infrastructure. Most people cannot duplicate the standard of living most of us enjoy today immediately following a disaster that results in failure of the electrical grid. Even if they could, it would not be a good idea. Hunger makes people observant. It is usually safer to appear just like everyone else.

A significant part of running a home, cabin or retreat off alternative energy is to reduce the amount of electricity you use every day. In practical terms, this is most often accomplished by modifying your usage patterns, installing low energy appliances and using LED lighting. If you use a generator, it is best to schedule all tasks requiring power and organizing all tools and materials needed to accomplish them during the window where the generator will be running. If you have enough solar panels, but not enough batteries, you have to schedule tasks during peak sunlight.

In achieving lesser degrees of energy independence with pocket solar and portable solar gear, it is best to plan out what equipment you would like to run and design the solution on paper before you buy the first component. The same goes for larger installations, but it is even more important.

3. Key Components

If you have been following along or have already started down the path to energy independence, you are likely already aware of the primary components of a small energy solution. Scaling this up to the level of a cabin or home uses mostly the same parts scaled up in size and the addition of more energy sources and possibilities. Most installations larger than a simple installation in a trailer typically runs AC as opposed to DC.

Power Sources

The principle energy sources of interest are:

  • Solar Array: A roof-mounted or tracking solar array turns solar energy into electricity.
  • Wind Generator: Uses wind to drive a turbine to generate electricity.
  • Micro Hydro: Uses running water to drive a turbine, generating electricity.
  • Fossil Fuel Generator: A propane, natural gas, diesel or unleaded motor drives a turbine in order to generate electricity.

Most home alternative energy systems use more than one energy source. Not every home site is suitable for every energy source and each source has limitations.

Solar is great in Southern latitudes and only works when the sun is shining and they are in full sun.

Wind Generators work day and night, but most models need the wind speed to be fairly constant. Too slow and they cannot generate electricity. Too fast and many need to apply brakes or shut down to avoid damage.

Micro Hydro is the best of the lot if your property is suitable. A micro hydro installation can power multiple homes with minimal maintenance, but not all properties have both sufficient water flow and sufficient drop in elevation to be a viable option for most properties.

Fossil Fuel Generators are reliable and some models can take multiple types of fuel with minimal modification, rain or shine, day or night, making them ideal for survivalists and as backup power sources. On the downside, they can be expensive to run, loud, produce exhaust and need maintenance. Generator owners compared costs after Hurricane Katrina and natural gas costs considerably less expensive than gasoline, hundreds of dollars per week in some cases. Still, gasoline generators are nearly always installed as backups to solar and hybrid systems because they can supply power on demand.

solar energy

DC to AC Inverter

Inverters take DC power generated by solar, wind and other sources and invert it to AC power used in home and business wall receptacles. You have probably used or seen small DC to AC inverters that invert 12v DC from an auto cigarette lighter receptacle to 120v DC to run any number of small appliances in vehicles or off car batteries.

Home inverters do essentially the same thing but on a larger and more precise scale. On-line 3-phase, pure sine wave inverters used in computer data centers offer the best protection to connected equipment but are expensive and heavy.

Some models are weather proofed and rated for outdoor installation so they can be located close to the solar or wind generator to prevent resistance. Another feature is data monitoring which is important to calculate the return on your investment.

Fuse Box

Fuse boxes are sometimes called combiners, join most of the other components together and protect them from each other if one of them short circuits. The inverter, fossil fuel generator, home wiring or load, and electrical meter (for grid-connected installations) all connect to the fuse box. The only components not typically connected to the fuse box are those which must go through the inverter first because they generate DC power as opposed to AC, like solar panels and wind generators.

Battery Bank

Most home installations use banks of batteries wired together and stored in ventilated enclosures for safety. The most commonly used batteries in use today are FLA (flooded lead acid) batteries which need constant maintenance of electrolyte solution levels or they risk developing an internal short circuit which can ignite flammable hydrogen gas that builds up. Exploding batteries can throw chunks of batteries and splash battery acid all over the place and that is never a good thing.

AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries are more expensive, but require less maintenance, make less of a mess and are more efficient, so choosing which type of battery is best for your installation is up to you and will likely be determined by your budget for the project.

Battery technology is changing. Batteries have seen significant improvements in the last decade and technologies under development should help but alternative energy within the reach of more and more self-reliant families in coming years.

Written by

Cache Valley Prepper is the CEO of Survival Sensei, LLC, a freelance author, writer, survival instructor, consultant and the director of the Survival Brain Trust. A descendant of pioneers, Cache was raised in the tradition of self-reliance and grew up working archaeological digs in the desert Southwest, hiking the Swiss Alps and Scottish highlands and building the Boy Scout Program in Portugal. Cache was mentored in survival by a Delta Force Lt Col and a physician in the US Nuclear Program and in business by Stephen R. Covey. You can catch up with Cache teaching EMP survival at survival expos, teaching SERE to ex-pats and vagabonds in South America or getting in some dirt time with the primitive skills crowd in a wilderness near you. His Facebook page is here. Cache Valley Prepper is a pen name used to protect his identity. You can send Cache Valley Prepper a message at editor [at] survivopedia.com

Latest comments
  • I read about a solar powered Stirling engine that sounded really promising until they decided to make them enormous for public energy corps. Segway inventor has a new design for the Stirling, but powers it with gas. I sure would like to see the Stirling solar option on a scale small enough for individual residential use. Any leads on that?

    • Yes SamNJoeysGrama,

      I have followed Dean Kamen’s innovation with the Slingshot and I am a fan of using innovation to address the significant problems people face. In fact, I have created a brain trust for the self-reliance movement towards that end. Kamen’s product is not only a power source but also purifies water. Once they get the price down, it may be a wonderful option for emergency preparedness applications as well as it’s target market of developing nations.
      They may have abandoned the name Slingshot, but it’s useful in searching on the item because I think the fact that they re-branded it makes it harder for people to find it, but here is a link to Deka Research.


  • While energy efficient, LED lighting likely will not survive an EMP. Best to have spares in a Faraday container.

    • Jerry,

      That depends on the nature of the EMP whether or not it is shielded, distance from “sky zero” and many other factors. I do keep backup incandescent lighting and use incan lights for some mission-critical applications such as my tactical light, but LED lighting is so much more efficient and that it often makes sense to store backup LED in Faraday Cages because it is just so much more efficient. I have written quite a bit on this topic if you are interested including how to protect alternative energy installations against EMP. I have followed up on the comments after those articles and answered a lot of questions and continue to do so, so it’s worth taking a look.

      Unfortunately, the article format does not lend itself to in-depth treatment of all aspects of technical topics, but I’ve also authored eBooks on the subject for Survivopedia if you are interested in a more in-depth look at the subject. Technology is shortening attention spans and people aren’t reading as many books and longer essays and that will likely produce a generation or two of idiots until people figure that out. ; )

      Thanks for commenting,


  • You missed a huge energy source that roughly three billion people use in the far east; methane digesters! Not only that, in the dairy industry in the US, many farms are generating their own electricity using large scale methane digesters for fuel. We are converting our farm. Folks in rural America should seriously look into this option.

  • Just because solar cells/power doesn’t work during the winter in your location, doesn’t mean you should ignore as a summer time source of power. Also, just because your cloudy most of the time does not mean you can’t use solar cells for power you may need something like 4 to 8 times the panels you would use if sunny but it can be made to work. Just at what cost.