Solar can be a lifeline following a hurricane

Solar outdoor lights don’t look any different from other outdoor lights.
Solar outdoor lights don’t look any different from other outdoor lights.

Anyone who has lived through a hurricane in the Keys knows that after the storm has passed,, the sunny skies reappear and it almost seems as if nothing has happened.

Not so with power. Hurricane Wilma in 2010 left our islands soggy and, in some places, under water. Power was out, cars were useless, and many lost their gasoline-powered generators.

Solar panels start producing power as soon as the sun reappears but not many houses have this equipment. Fortunately, even if you can’t afford to install solar now, you can purchase a variety of small solar devices that will charge your cell phone, charge home batteries, provide light for reading and other tasks, or even run a cooling fan.

The Waka-Waka

One such device is, oddly, named the Waka-Waka light. This small unit, inexpensively priced at $39, has a small solar panel on the back that charges an internal battery. That battery powers two very bright LED lights that can be set at three different levels and even send an SOS signal at a window. As an owner of the wonderful Waka-Waka, I can testify that it works extremely well. We used it as a nightlight when traveling overseas. A day-long charge powered the light all night long.

Waka-Waka also manufactures a slightly more expensive device that charges cell phones. The company says its phone charger will have a full battery after 12 to 24 hours, and can then charge a phone in just two hours. Better yet, it also provides light, just like its less expensive cousin. Even if the landline phones are out after a storm, you’ll be able to use your cell phone to make calls, get emergency information, or check the weather.

Small solar panels

Also available are small solar panels that will connect to a battery charger. When the power is out, a 25-watt unit will easily recharge double A or triple A batteries (or charge a cell phone). This could be very important after a storm if the power is out for any length of time. Flashlights, small radios, and the batteries for laptop computers all run out of power eventually. With this small panel, residents can be assured that they will be ready for any disaster. These panels are inexpensive and easy to find.

Emergency lighting

It’s common to see motion-activated lights on homes. The light comes on when its sensor detects a person, or even an animal, entering the area. People also put them over the steps to their house or a driveway so the way will be brightly lit when they return home. Now many of these units use small solar panels to charge the batteries for their illumination. Since they rely on LED bulbs, these solar motion lights can stay on for 15 or more minutes, giving you plenty of time to enter your home safely. They are also quite inexpensive, usually selling for under $50. Because they are solar powered, no wiring is required and they can be installed very quickly.

Walkway lighting

People are using small solar lights in their landscaping to provide decorative illumination as well as a way to guide them up stairways and on walkways. When the power is out, these tiny lights will enable people to find their way in the dark. They don’t need wiring, work unfailingly, and are cheap to buy. A set of eight found on the internet costs around $50.

Solar generators

If you can make a larger investment, you might be interested in what’s known as a solar generator. These are large batteries that recharge by the sun’s power. The advantage is that they include an AC inverter so that, the manufacturer says, they will power home lighting, fans, and even a CPAP machine. The ones I saw advertised come with a 20-watt solar panel, but it might take a bit more than that to recharge the unit quickly. Read reviews before purchasing these because they cost around $600. If the units do what they say it’s far better than having a gasoline powered generator because the solar generators can be used inside. And, if the power is out for a long time after a hurricane, gas stations might not have gasoline or be able to pump it. But the sun will continue to shine.

This is just a short list of what’s available. Do a search and you’ll find many more. It’s urgent for Keys residents to be prepared for hurricanes and their aftermath. Solar power is the best way to ensure you have the electricity and light you may need if a large storm knocks out the power on our vulnerable islands.

Michael Welber is executive director of the Solar Education Association of the Florida Keys. The group can be contacted at