Lighting during power outages — our solution. REVISED

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Emergency lighting.  Power outages are all too commonplace in the Philippines.  They can be a little scary at night when your own house goes dark along with the entire neighborhood.  Like just about every resident of the Philippines, we have bought battery powered lamps and backup lights.  These typically don’t throw off much light and don’t last long.  We have a generator, but going out to the storage building (in the middle of the night, in the dark) and starting up is not so appealing, especially when the outage might end up being a short one.  That would mean going back out to shutdown the generator and put it away.

Since we replaced all of our outdoor lights with LED bulbs, we got to thinking about using our existing lights rather than the assortment of backup lanterns we have bought over the years.  Like most homeowners our house has various circuits for lighting and outlets.  One of our circuits powers our outdoor lights.  We thought, “could we supply backup power to those lights through an automatic battery backup system.  Rising interest in solar power has resulted in a plethora of new gadgets.  One that I found on aliexpress.com seem to combine an inverter which would convert 12V D.C. power from a lead-acid storage battery to 230 VAC to power our lights.  The unit also has a built in automatic battery charger and a relay which switches to the backup battery when utility power goes out.

light-backup2

Inverter, charger, automatic switch.

 

Inverter, battery and connections

Inverter, battery and connections

The connections are as follows.  The heavy red and black connections between the battery and the inverter don’t really need a comment except to say that we bought the cables along with the inverter and are glad we did.  If you look at the inverter you will see two connections.  The gray cable above is to a 230V wall outlet.  The brown connector connects the outdoor lighting circuit to the inverter.  Basically we disconnected this lighting circuit from its breaker in the panel box and rerouted it (another story) to the inverter.

During normal operation,  the inverter passes utility power to the lighting circuit.  When there is a utility power outage, the lighting circuit is switched to power from the inverter/storage battery.  Our outdoor lights were already on a timer so that the outdoor lights come on only at dusk and turn off at dawn.

The internet http://all-about-lead-acid-batteries.capnfatz.com/all-about-lead-acid-batteries/lead-acid-battery-fundamentals/amp-hours-vs-kilowatt-hours/ tells us that a 100 Amp Hour battery will power a 60W load for twenty hours.  Our outdoor lighting load is a bit more than that, but if this information is correct we should have good emergency lighting throughout any night.

Cost:  Inverter and cables about $135 including shipping.  The battery P6,000.00.  Link to buy the inverter https://www.aliexpress.com/item/2016-multifunction-power-inverter-12v-220v-inverter-UPS-function-12V-Battery-Charger-universal-socket-UK-plug/32600500908.html  I have found the seller to be responsive to after-the-sale inquiries.

Another use for the system is to power a fan.  Not having any breeze from a fan on a sweltering day is one of the particular tortures of the power outage.  The unit could easily power a fan.  If more capacity is needed or wanted, additional batteries can be added, linked in parallel.

None of this may be news to you but we post it in the hope that it will be useful to others.  We gave the system a test by turning on the outdoor lights and disconnecting the utility power to the inverter.  It worked perfectly.  We ended our test arbitrarily at four hours, but certainly the lights would have stayed on longer.

UPDATE:  August 12, 2017.  Our backup system described above, worked fine for a few months.  Then the Samlex inverter gave us warning messages about an input failure.  This involved a warning light and a buzzer. We thought the battery had already gone bad and, with reluctance, we bought a new one.  That did not solve the problem.  We examined the Samlex instructions and noted that it said that it would not work with a system in which the neutral is bonded to ground in the panel box, as ours is.  That does not explain why it worked fine for months.

We really don’t have an explanation for the problems with the Samlex.  However I had a new brainstorm.  I use so-called uninterruptable power supplies (UPS)  for my main computer.  This is practically a necessity in a place which has routine power outages.  My first UPS was made by APC, the leader in UPS.  Eventually the built in lead-acid battery wore out and I was unable to find a replacement battery locally.  I eventually bought a new, larger APC UPS.

I thought, isn’t a UPS really the same as my Samlex; a combination inverter-charger-switch?   What did I have to lose?  I disassembled the old UPS and extended the leads intended to connect the battery to the UPS.  With trepidation, I connected the UPS to the new 60 AMP/HOUR Panasonic battery I had bought to use with the Samlex.  This battery is at least 10X the capacity of the battery that came with the UPS.  I plugged the UPS into a receptacle and plugged my outdoor lighting circuit into the UPS.  Eureka! It has worked beautifully.  If I had connected a load in excess of the capacity of the UPS, the UPS would have failed in one way or another, but the outdoor lighting circuit consists of four 12 Watt LED lamps and four 5 Watt LEDs, so a total of 58 Watts, not really a larger load that a typical desktop computer and monitor.  So, don’t throw away that old UPS!

 

Comments (16) Write a comment

  1. Very educational. Thanks for sharing.

    I had a look at Lazada in order to find a small off grid 60 Hz inverter. No luck, they were all grid tied.

    What is the fastest and most secure shipping to province locations in the Philippines when buying from Aliexpress?

    Reply

    • Aliexpress sellers generally use a default shipping method. Cheaper items go via the China Postal system (which seems good) and more costly items via Aliexpress shipping, DHL or one of the other shipping firms. Just be sure you are getting 60 Hertz electronics.

      Reply

  2. you can find customizable packages and parts from reliable installers/suppliers at the Solar Power Philippines FB page. Good discussions there as well. hope this helps.

    Reply

  3. As usual Bob another great idea and presentation. It is annoying to have the power go out, get up and light a half dozen candles, place them around the house and 5 min. later the power is back on, happens all the time.

    But for those longer times this idea sounds good, for us being able to run one small fan would be the real key to the set up and I’ll have to look into this.

    Thanks for your efforts in sharing all this.

    Robin & Laura

    Reply

  4. Hi Bob and Carol. First of all thank you for sharing your experience and the challenges you learn for every projects you have implemented. As an Electronic and Communication Engineer, I also love to Do-It-Yourself small project especially for our home in Iloilo City. I like your idea of connecting your lights directly to the UPS Inverter/Charger to have an automatic standby when the power goes down. Just a caution as the device you purchase is only having 50Hz frequency this will have an effect on your Electric Fan Motor in the long run. For lighting not so much effect but for electric motors with 60Hz running on 50Hz frequency will cause a heat buildup and burn your Fan Motor or affect your UPS in the long run. I purchase most of my electronic needs on aliexpress as well, just specify when ordering that it should be compatible to our 220V 60Hz frequency in the Philippines.

    Reply

    • Gerald,

      Thanks for the caution. Really we are just using it for nighttime lighting during brownouts (blackouts). I’ll have to say it works magnificently. We recently had a power outage and our lighting did not even skip a beat. Everything was dark in our neighborhood, but we had lights. I recommend the system as very inexpensive security. It would be especially good to include it in the plans when you build a house so that you can have all the lighting circuits you want to sustain on one circuit. For us, it’s our outdoor security lighting.

      Bob

      Reply

      • Hi Bob, I think your UPS Inverter/Charger have a component failure. Main cause of this is the frequency output difference generated by the UPS which is only 50Hz. I love to order also in aliexpress as they are cheap specially for my DIY projects, just note to inform your supplier that you need 220V 60Hz.

        Reply

        • Gerald, I think you have hit the nail on the head. Likely that (50Hz) explains why the Samlex worked for some months and then failed. Anyway, my converted UPS is working fine, so far, although it did feel a little bold to hook that big 70 amp/hr battery to that puny APC UPS. I wonder if the UPS will keep the big battery properly charged? We rarely have long power outages at night so really the whole setup does not get that much use, just 15 minutes or an hour from time to time. I suppose that I could do the same thing with the APC UPS I use with my computer; hook it up to a much larger external battery and then my “work” would never be interrupted. Thanks again. Bob

          Reply

  5. I did that 2 years ago. I also added a small solar panel to feed the battery all the time and at night when the electricity is on, it recharges from electricity. It provided lights and a small fan at night when I need it the most. The battery only lasted 2 years and had a 2 year warrantee so now the system is inoperable as I am not buying another 12 volt battery until we return.

    Reply

    • Scotty, we gave our system a good test yesterday. We shut off the mains power to the inverter so that it would have to run off the 100 amp/hr battery. We switched on the outdoor lights, 12W LEDs at each corner of the house, 4 3W LEDs elsewhere and a 12W LED inside, so a load of 72 Watts. We left it going for four hours. I am sure it could have kept going for hours longer. Now, when we have a “brownout” our security lights stay on and we have lighting inside too. As you say a fan would be great. We could add another 100 amp/hr battery wired in parallel and we really would be sitting pretty. Bob

      Reply

  6. Thanks so much for this and all your other posts. You really have some great ideas that are as they say “cutting edge”.

    Reply

  7. I like the generator, starting it and maintenance is just a nice activity, and generator is the only option for long outages anyway. However we didnt need it the last 4-5 years after we moved nearer metro, meralco is extremely reliable.

    Reply

  8. Gosh the candles we use!

    I do like the lead acid battery UPS solution. It is just a good bit out of my price range. Bob, after you set that up, perhaps you may want to add a solar cell to that. I am not sure how much you would need. Perhaps a 100 watt panel would keep your lights going all night in the event of a long power outage.

    I just purchased a dozen 5 watt “emergency” LED bulbs from Lazada. These bulbs have a battery built in. On regular power they are fairly bright. When the power goes out they are not so bright but way better than a candle. And this solution, about anybody can do it as it is just changing a light bulb.

    They say the battery in these bulbs will last for 4 hours I believe. We have had 1 power outage of over an hour but it was during the day. They worked just fine. We haven’t had the chance to use them at night.

    These lights can just be used on a single light circuit. If there is more than one light they will malfunction. It is simply how they work. When you switch off the light, the emergency light will sense the other light which makes a complete circuit and the emergency light will turn on.

    Some do have a slight annoyance. The part of the circuit that turns the emergency part off and on does so under regular power. In other words, the light has a slight flicker. It’s not real bad but noticeable.

    Even with the bad parts pointed out above, I am very pleased with the lights. I bought them in bulk and the price was right. You may want or need something better than 5 watt. To me the 5 watt was the best bang for the buck. I found 6 for P459 and bought two sets. I just checked and they are still available from Hayahay. If you have a bit of a problem in lower light I would suggest finding something more than 5 watts.

    If you want to look at these, go to Lazada and search ’emergency led’ and they sell many at different watts. I have in mind to buy some bigger bulbs after Christmas for the dinning room and bathroom.

    Reply

  9. Sounds good, but wouldn’t be be easier to just buy a generator that can power up more things?

    Reply

    • We have a generator. Downsides: getting up in the middle of the night to start it and then having the power come back on as soon as you get back inside the house. Also, a simple generator will not start if you are away whereas our new system is automatic. No getting out of bed, and it works when we are away.

      Reply

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