Hi Mr. Rawles:
In your comments to the family living in Trinidad & Tobago, you wrote: "As
your budget allows, buy a small solar charger for your AA and AAA NiMH batteries."
Do you have personal experience with any of these solar chargers? Can you recommend any? Many thanks, - Larry T.
JWR Replies: Depending on your budget, solutions can run from "micro", to "mini", to "maxi." These inexpensive solar chargers sold by Ready Made Resources (one of our long-time advertisers) work fine as a "micro" solution., but be advised that they are not waterproof. I recommend setting these up on a windowsill, inside a south-facing window. In my experience, it is best to buy at least two of these chargers, since they charge slowly, via "trickle charging".
Moving up to the "mini" solution, there are these 6.5 watt flexible (amorphous), photovoltaic (PV) panels. Even modest-size PV systems with a small deep cycle battery bank can make a huge difference in providing small scale lighting and battery charging for crucial security measures such as radios and night vision equipment. There are so many LED lights, battery charging trays, and various pieces of electronic gear available that will run directly from 12 VDC or from a DC-to-DC converter, that you might be able to skip the expense of a full-up system with a large AC inverter.
If you have a bigger budget, Ready Made Resources (RMR) and other vendors can also supply larger pre-packaged PV power systems, either with or without an AC power inverter. (Without an inverter, they will provide only 12 volt or 24 volt DC power.) RMR even has experience designing "maxi" systems--6 KW or larger. (BTW, they offer free alternate energy system design and consulting.)
Keep in mind that starting January 1st, grid-tied PV systems will be eligible for a 30% Federal tax credit in the US. Many states also offer their own tax credits. In some states such as Florida and California, the combined Federal and state tax credits may reduce your expense by as much as 70%, when all is said and done.