Published on October 13th, 2013 | by Greg0
Fenix’s ReadySet Solar: Built For Africa, Great For Anywhere
Reliable power is something that is easy to take for granted in most of the Western world. In many other parts of the world, the same cannot be said. Aging infrastructure is a problem that we’re all too familiar with, and even seriously prepared areas can still be caught off guard by natural disasters (Hurricane Sandy knocked us out here for a week, in one of the richest areas of the world). But summer brownouts and occasional losses can be somewhat overlooked, if that was daily life, you’d be desperate for an alternative solution.
Solar power has shown plenty of promise, but it’s still an evolving technology, a bit delicate at times, a bit inefficient, and needs a few different components to work well together. Fenix International’s ReadySet Solar Kit brings them all together, and is specifically built for use in harsh environments, and with other methods in mind. We don’t see too many backup power systems that discuss use with bicycle generators or micro-wind, designed to withstand the spikes and uneven, “dirty” power that these sources can push out.
Originally a Kickstarter project, they received more than six times their goal, totaling over $120K. It’s easy to see why- the massive market of “off-grid” cell phone users, those rural third-world cell phone users that can end up walking a dozen or more mile to the nearest city simply to charge up their electronics. Between awkward batteries being hauled from area to area by vendors, and the nasty diesel generators that often power them, it’s a problem that could easily be helped by a bit of sunpower. A single kit like the ReadySet Solar might be a nice gadget to have for folks like us, and likely you, who are simply looking for a decent way to get some more juice while out camping or hiking, or want to be ready for emergencies. But in Africa, the idea is to create new small businesses who can use one of these kits to provide instant charging for an entire village, a sort of micro-utility enabled partly by mobile providers in countries like Rwanda and Uganda, as well as provide an alternative lighting solution to hazardous kerosene lanterns and lights.
There are three essential items that you get in the modular package: a rugged, aluminum-frame 15W solar panel, the cute universal clip charger that can “charge any mobile phone or digital camera 3.7v Li-Ion battery by USB without the need for special cables or connectors”, as well as the heart of the system, the 54 watt hour battery pack. Featuring two USB ports, it also has dual car lighter ports, an unusual addition among competitors. But they envision it as more than a mere battery pack, consciously creating open hardware and a platform for future expansion. It’s cute, if less portable than your average battery pack, but is built using as much off-the-shelf components as possible at a low cost to ensure maximum accessibility. You can charge up to ten phones a day, or power an LED light for 30 hours. And, in a nice touch, they even include the light- a 3W bulb that was nifty, if not really ready for convenient use.
Whether you want one to encourage social impact, or just to have a handy solar-capable battery backup for your iPad or smartphone on your R/V, boat, or beach house, the ReadySet Solar Kit is definitely worth looking into. There are cheaper backup batteries, but we haven’t seen anything that includes this level of solar panel at this price point (7 hours of full sun for a full charge is pretty good). If you just need an occasional boost, or if you have more serious power requirements (laptops, for instance), then consider other options- we’ve seen some bulky but powerful options from Brunton and GoalZero in the past. The 16-pound ReadySet Solar is available in red, directly from the company $225, and has held up well in our tests.