Kevin's Blog Photography, technology, and whatever else

14Jan/110

DIY Solar Power Setup – Part 1

I've been interested solar power for a few years now.  I found the technology fascinating and the applications nearly limitless.  Ideally I could have a system that would power my house, and tie into the electrical grid if there was energy above our needs.  Some former neighbors of ours who now live in Arizona had a $7 electricity bill one month this fall.  Wouldn't that be nice!?  I've also read articles about people down south that have thousands of dollars in credit from the utility for the surplus energy they have fed into the grid.  Unfortunately, the bottom line purchase price shows that a system of any real value can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000+ depending on your needs and what you wand to do.  I'm not interested in taking out a Home Equity Loan to get solar into my house so this size setup is not possible.

Another option that is more within my budget is a small solar setup.   I found this interesting as eventually our family would like to get an RV, and adding solar to an RV can greatly extend the battery power and help limit the need to run a generator as much.  This type of setup has been in use for years and has proven to be highly effective.  Unfortunately we do not have an RV yet, so that wasn't very useful!

Still struggling for justification to fiddle around, I decided that I could build a small setup to power my HAM radio.  This would allow me to run my on my primary power source even if the power from the grid is off during an emergency.  The solar panel will keep my batteries charged while not in use, and hopefully replenish the juice quickly when needed.  I don't use the HAM all that much, so there would hopefully be some excess power to experiment with.

The design of small solar systems can vary greatly depending on the application.  Often they consist of a few solar panels, a solar charge controller, some array of batteries for storage, and some kind of power inverter to run the standard household appliances.   In my case an  inverter was not required as the HAM radio run on standard 12v DC.  This could be added for additional flexibility at any time though.

After months of debating I decided to start designing and piecing together a setup.  I started with two 6v deep cycle batteries run in series to get the standard 12v DC.  This would allow me to run my radio on the batteries right away while charging them with standard charging equipment until the rest of the solar was in place.  Selecting the size and type of battery that is right for you is not an easy decision.  It took a great deal of research to decide on what I ended up with, and even now I'm still not certain I'll be 100% satisfied!

Two 6v Crown batteries run in series for 12v DC.

 

In a forthcoming post I will talk about the solar panel and charge controller as well as the hardware to interconnect everything.  Then onto the build and hopefully a working system!

UPDATE: DIY Solar Results post here!

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