Friday, May 13, 2011

The Great Solar Experiment

Six 15-watt solar panels along the side of my shop
It's been about a year since I bought a solar panel array.  I was eager to begin experimenting with them, but alas.  Life got in the way.  Well, I'm happy to say that I finally got around to it!  I know very little about solar power, but I have read a lot about it thanks to some really wonderful DIY projects and documentations online.  The equipment that I have isn't really top of the line.  I felt like it was just right for experimentation though.  Solid stuff at a reasonable price.  If everything works out I may upgrade in the future.  For now I'm using two 45 watt kits from Harbor Freight.  I was able to snag them for $129 and $99 respectively thanks to the outstanding coupons that HF offers regularly.  Some of their stuff is cheaply made, but for light duty stuff and price Harbor Freight is pretty awesome.

First things first.  Where to put them?  The house is out of the question, so somewhere at my shop was on the top of the list.  I had reservations about putting them on the roof as I'm not even sure that this whole deal will pan out.  I know that to maximize the gain that I needed to get the most sunlight.  That would mean putting them in an unsecured area and having to run wires back to the shop.  More wire = energy loss.  I wasn't interested in moving them around either.  I decided on mounting them at an angle on the west side of my shop.  They will not get full sunlight all day, but they will be right on from around Noon or 1:00 until sunset.  Good enough for me at this point.  How I was going to secure them presented yet another challenge.  I finally found some random brackets at Lowe's that could be easily anchored into the brick and cradle the panels at an angle.  Rubber coated tabs were used, two to the panel, at the top just in case a ferocious wind were to come at the wrong angle.  All of the wiring ran behind the panels and into a small two inch hole back into the shop.  I filled the gap with some silicone and the outside was done.

MacGyver type power source consisting
of two deep cycle marine batteries and a
750 watt inverter.
I setup a battery bank and the charge controller inside the shop.  Not sure if I'll keep everything as it is, but it is out of the way.  It also allows a place where it's out of the reach of little boys who might be curious.  Right now I'm working off of two deep cycle marine batteries that are parallel wired.  I've been using this setup for a couple of years for tailgating and camping.  The basket that holds them features a 750 watt inverter on the side.  We were able to easily run a TV, converter box, powered antenna and a fan off of it for 6 hours during some of our tailgating adventures.  It should be able to run some florescent lights and the occasional drill and saw with ease.  This will also be the spot where I recharge my alternating batteries for running the electric fence around the garden.

The challenge at this point is to try and figure the best (and safest) way to work a switch mechanism.  We need the power to the grid to be off when running on the batteries.  Likewise we need the batteries, panels and inverter to be cut off when we have a need to run the shop off of regular electricity.  I have an idea about how to do it through the breaker box, but I need to do some more studying.

This has been a long time coming and I have had a lot of fun with it.  It's more of a science experiment than any real foray into solar power.  However, if I can figure through some things I might be interested in going to the next level.  Once I get everything figured out I'll post another update.

Y'all take it easy,



  1. Hi, I came here after your guest post about the cane sugar (great post!) I'm subbing because your blog is refreshing after so many preparedness blogs being either gloom and doom, or buy my product or commission whatevers.

    I normally just prep for hurricane season, but have been putting up more food, and trying repeatedly to learn to garden. Let's just say I'm still having bits of success here and there, because otherwise it's a book haha.

    Take care, and hopefully update this project whenever you work on it more ^_^

  2. Thanks for your note Shreela. I appreciate you taking the time to read! I try not to be too doom and gloom. IMO, the best preparedness tool is knowledge....closely followed by not having a fear of sweating ;)