10 Easy Ways to Run Your Laptop Without Electricity

February 11, 2009

Have you ever tried to use your laptop without electricity for any length of time? Unless you have a load of laptop batteries in the storage shed, you might find that going without electricity or getting off the grid can prove difficult. While a laptop uses less power than a desktop, if you want get greener you may want to try one or more of the ten options listed below.

Some of the options — such as battery power — are not totally green. But, batteries are essential if you want to store or generate power from alternative sources. So, start with batteries, and then learn more about how to use that laptop with the least amount of power as possible.

  1. Use a Power Inverter: While using a car battery is an option for powering your laptop, there are tips and tricks for using this option available anywhere you find “car batteries + laptops” on the Internet. If you feel comfortable with this idea, the link above will help you choose a power inverter for your experiment, and this “how-to” article at Handyman makes the idea about powering a laptop with your car a bit more understandable. Of course, you need to own a car for this project.
  2. Inverter with Batteries: This is another battery-powered option that can be used by someone who owns a laptop, but who doesn’t own a car. While the link will take you to an article about battery banks for inverter systems, it’s a good start to understanding how this option can be mobile or permanent. If you want to learn how to create battery banks for off-the-grid power, this article also will get you up to speed on battery options, dangers, and uses. You can find battery-based inverters online: just search for them!
  3. Deep Cycle Battery Power: This type of battery is useful when you need a power source with a slow drain over a long period of time without recharging. Although these batteries are heavy, they aren’t very expensive. What can add up are the peripherals, such as a charger. This option is portable, as are the previous two options, but you can make them stable as well. The link will take you to “Zen and the art of choosing a deep cycle battery” by Northern Arizona Wind & Sun. They explain the costs, storage options, and the difference between flooded and sealed deep cycle batteries.
  4. USB Peripherals: Consider USB peripherals that are powered solely from your USB port for any peripherals. Some portable external disk drives or wireless USB-powered modem, for instance, can draw all their power from your laptop so you can carry on using them if the power goes out. Using that external drive will drain your battery faster, however. If you’re going after a new laptop, make sure it has plenty of USB drives for your peripherals, as a powered hub isn’t much help during a blackout. The link for this option opens a list of ideas and options for USB powered laptop ideas.
  5. Permanent Solar Power: This sun-powered power option for your laptop involved photovoltaic solar panels, an inverter and batteries for a long time without any moving parts and with little maintenance. The downside to this option is that the cost for this option rarely is cost-effective, even to power an entire home for several decades. Additionally, solar power only works when the sun is shining — hence the batteries to store that power for cloudy days. The link for this option takes you to the How Stuff Works article on solar power.
  6. Mobile Solar Power: This is a more feasible option for laptop owners, as a laptop needs more solar power than a cellphone, but less solar power than an entire house. You can purchase backpacks, laptop bags and bags that include voltaic panels that can generate 14.7 watts. This is powerful enough to fully charge a typical laptop from a day of direct sunlight. Plus, some bags come with a custom battery pack that can store any surplus power for those hazy days as well as adapters. The link for this option takes you to a review of a top-notch solar-powered laptop bag at engadget.
  7. Mini Wind Power: If you have a good supply of wind in your area, a wind turbine might help you with your laptop activities. Instead of gearing up with a huge turbine to power the entire house, try a mini-turbine that ranges from 100 to 600 watts of power. Used mostly on sailboats and yachts, a detailed plan and a city planner may be all you need to certify use for small projects. The downside is that wind turbines have moving parts, which means more things that require maintenance. The link for this option will help you stay tuned to this project at Off Grid Living (read the comments to learn more).
  8. Microhydro Electricity: The immediate downside to this option is that you’ll need water and (often) water rights to run your laptop from a liquid power source. But, it can be the most cost-effective of any option because it produces so much more consistent energy and fewer batteries are needed to store the energy. And, if your water source runs shallow during summer, you can switch to that solar-powered backpack for backup!
  9. Get a Greener Computer: If your current laptop is dying on you, you might consider changing that energy-consuming computer entirely to a greener model. One example we found was the “Aleutia E2,” a small PC that consumes only 8W of power (jut a little more than an energy-saving light bulb). It’s small, rugged (no moving parts), runs Ubuntu and OpenOffice on Linux and it even runs from a solar panel. While this machine might not be what you need for gaming or graphic design, it can work just fine for documents.
  10. Utilize Trade-Offs: Although this last option doesn’t generate power, it does conserve the power that you use. One dollar’s worth of energy conservation can save up to five dollars in energy generation equipment costs. So, if you need to run your laptop off the grid, you can cut the power elsewhere to conserve energy. For instance, if you lower your thermostat by two degrees during the winter, you can save 4% on your energy bill and prevent 500 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Unplug when possible by using a power strip and use the power strip to cut off all power to the attached appliances (this works especially well for peripherals such as printers, scanners, etc.). Use the link for this option to learn more.

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