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You’ve built a secure shelter to protect your family if the worst happens—but how are you going to power it? Various energy sources are available to the avid survivalist, all with their own advantages and drawbacks. To truly excel in a survival situation, it is vital to understand the types of energy that can be harnessed and the systems needed to adapt them to your individual needs.


Image credit: Generator Power

Electric generators, run on either diesel gasoline or bio-fuel, are the most obvious and accessible power source for many survivalists. Easy to procure and operate, generators can be used year-round to provide power for lighting, cooking, and essential life support systems. These generators can be readily bought at many outdoor or home-improvement stores in a variety of sizes. Similarly, biodiesel generators can either be bought online or constructed by retrofitting a standard diesel generator to accept biofuel.

Survival experts advocate for a 2- to 4-generator system that ensures power will remain steady even if a generator fails or is taken offline for repair. However, utilizing generators as the main power source would also require significant space for fuel storage, as well as housing to keep the generators protected from the elements and an exhaust vent to allow air contaminated by burning fuel to escape. Additionally, the temperature should be considered when choosing the most effective power source for your shelter. Diesel generators work best provided it’s not too cold outside, as excessively cold temperatures may cause the fuel to gel and clog the motor or intake lines. With this in mind, generators are generally believed to be the most useful during the summer months or in warmer climates.

Solar Panels

Solar panels may also be a viable option to power a survival shelter, as they require little effort to run once in place. Also generally easy to procure, solar panels can be prohibitively expensive for some survivalists and require space with relatively reliable access to sunlight. Panels should be placed in such a way as to maximize their exposure to sunlight throughout the course of the day and will require a battery in which to store the energy accrued during daylight hours. These batteries, which can last anywhere from 5 to 15 years if properly maintained, should be kept dry and protected from major temperature fluctuations. Exposure to freezing or sweltering temperatures can damage the battery and significantly impact its usefulness and lifespan, so proper storage is key.

Unfortunately, solar panels can also be very fickle energy sources, as sunlight may not always be available; heavy cloud cover, winter darkness, and physical obstructions can all lessen the efficiency of your panels. Shelters in areas of low light, such as dense forests or in the shadow of tall mountains, should consider alternate energy sources. Additionally, any shelter relying on solar energy as the main source of power should keep an electrical generator on standby in case of extreme conditions that limit sunlight.

Wind Turbines

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Larger and more expensive than electric generators or solar panels, horizontal shaft windmills can be a power option for shelters in areas with reliable wind activity. These windmills are commercially available in a variety of sizes and offer reasonably slender profiles, so as not to draw too much attention to an otherwise hidden shelter.

As with solar panels, windmills are highly dependent on naturally-occurring circumstances, so the power they generate may not be constant or reliable. Similarly, windmills will also require a battery in which to store accrued energy, and the battery must be kept in a secure, dry, and climate-controlled location to prevent damage and preserve the battery’s integrity. Ideally, a windmill would not be the sole source of power for a shelter, but one part of a multi-source power system.


While rare, hydroelectric systems may be used to power survival shelters. These systems rely on naturally occurring water sources such as rivers or springs and often require sophisticated equipment that may not be commercially available. Because of these rather steep requirements, hydroelectric systems are not commonly used to power personal survival shelters. However, if an adequate water source is available and you have the requisite knowledge to build such a system, hydroelectric power can be a clean and abundant source of energy.

Ultimately, the power source best suited to your shelter will depend upon the location and the natural resources at your disposal. Electric generator, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power are all viable options, as long as the correct equipment is available. For the best results, remember to always employ multiple power sources in case of failure in one source or another.

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