Using parts easily available
from your local stores, you can make a small solar power
generator for $250 to $300. Great for power failures
and life outside the power grid. Power your computer,
modem, vcr, tv, cameras, lights, or DC appliances anywhere
you go. Use in cabins, boats, tents, archaeological
digs, or while travelling throughout the third world.
Have one in the office store room in case of power failures
in your high-rise. I keep mine in my bedroom where it
powers my CD player, turntable, lights, modem, laptop,
and (ahem) a back massager. I run a line out the window
to an 8" x 24" panel on the roof.
1. Buy yourself a small
solar panel. For about $100 you should be able to get
one rated at 12 volts or better (look for 16 volts)
at an RV or marine supplies store.
2. Buy yourself a battery.
Get any size deep cycle 12 volt lead/acid battery. You
need the deep cycle battery for continuous use. The
kind in your car is a cranking battery--just for starting
an engine. Look for bargains, it should cost about $50-60.
3. Get a battery box to
put it in for $10. (This is good for covering up the
exposed terminals in case there are children about If
you going to install the system in a pump shed, cabin,
or boat, skip this.)
3. Buy a 12 volt DC meter.
Radio Shack has them for about $25.
4. Buy a DC input. I like
the triple inlet model which you can find at a car parts
store in the cigarette lighter parts section for about
$10. This is enough to power DC appliances, and there
are many commercially available, like fans, one-pint
water boilers, lights, hair dryers, baby bottle warmers,
and vacuum cleaners. Many cassette players, answering
machines, and other electrical appliances are DC already
and with the right cable will run straight off the box.
5. But if you want to run
AC appliances, you will have to invest in an inverter.
This will convert the stored DC power in the battery
into AC power for most of your household appliances.
I bought a 115 volt 140 watt inverter made by Power-to-Go
at Pep Boys for $50. More powerful inverters are available
by mail. Count up the number of watts you'll be using
(e.g., a small color television(=60 watts) with a VCR(=22
watts), you'll need 82 watts).
6. Use a drill to attach
the meter and DC input to the top of the box.
7. Use insulated wire to
attach the meter to the wingnut terminals on the battery.
Connect the negative (-) pole first. Only handle one
wire at a time. Connect the DC inlet to the battery
in the same way. Connect the solar panel to the battery
in the same way.
8. Close the lid (I use
a bungee cord to keep it tight). Put the solar panel
in the sun. It takes 5-8 hours to charge a dead battery;
1-3 hours to top off a weak one. It will run radios,
fans, and small wattage lights all night, or give you
about 5 hours of continuous use at 115 volt AC, or about
an hour boiling water. This system may be added on to
with larger panels, inverters, and batteries.