Many people want to get solar power for their home for various reasons. Weather you want to save the environment. Do your part to help the nation get away from dependence on off shore resources. To save money. Or if you simply hate the power company.
My house is completely off grid. That means no public electricity and no public water.
My solar power system is no where near ideal, but it works and I built it very nearly for free. And yes that means I am in fact writing this entire article on solar power.
When building a solar power system it doesn’t take a lot of planning in fact no planning at all is ideal.
The heart of your power system is the panels. There’s no way around it. If all you have is panels you can generate some usable electricity. You may be able to search the internet for used ones when people are upgrading their system or beg some off of someone who has them,if you’re patient and lucky you may be able to have some for a song or very cheap. But chances are you’re just going to have to bite the bullet and buy them.
Confusion headaches which ones to buy? How much do they cost? Yuck!
Here’s what you need to know. Any solar panel less than 100 watts is impractical it’s just not going to put out enough juice to be worth the trouble. I would consider those to be toys unless you have say a riding lawnmower that you only use once a week and want something to keep the battery topped off while you’re not using it. Any solar panel kits. Build your own solar panel DIY whatever. They are just an awful lot of hassle. It’s just not worth it. The headache and trouble of soldering solar cells together will make you want to throw them across the room before you get the first one built.
So factory made solar panels are your best bet IF you want to have something that actually works.
My advice is to buy any 18V solar panel that’s over 100W. Why 18? Because it’s a sweet spot for a 12V battery system. In dim light and cloudy days it will still put some power into your batteries. And in bright light it will give a good charge to common 12V lead acid batteries, without too much risk of overcharging them in bright sun.
Ok now that you have your solar panels now you have some electricity to play with. It’s a low voltage DC so you can’t really shock yourself if you mess up. The wiring is very simple. It works just like a battery that only works when light shines on it.
The next step is you need some way to store that electricity. This is where batteries come in. Car batteries are very common and convenient. You can get them for free if you ask around. Even dead ones are good I know the owner of a small scrap yard who allows me to trade dead batteries for ones that can be reconditioned. It takes about 3 of them for every 100 watts of power.
It takes a little trading back and forth but eventually you can assemble a pretty good collection of batteries for practically free.
To check if a battery is good. Short it briefly with a thick wire. If it has any spark at all it’s most likely good. If the positive terminal is encrusted with a red brown color it was one that was well maintained during its service life. If it sparks at all the internal resistance is low enough that it will take a charge. Although about 1 in 3 of them may have a shorted cell or another issue preventing them from reaching full charge. I find ones that spark but have 9 volts or less on the volt meter are often this kind of issue.
Once you have a battery bank and solar panels a battery voltage indicator or LCD volt meter is a cheap and good investment.
These are a few dollars on ebay.
The next thing you need is an inverter. I recommend using at least a 400 watt inverter. Again anything less I would consider to be a toy. It will work but you won’t be very happy with the number of things you can’t use it for.
As a general rule your inverter should be roughly equal to or slightly less than the total wattage of your panels. On the high end your panels will generate power faster than you can possibly use,allowing your batteries the chance to overcharge or simply waste power. In severe cases this means boiling your batteries damaging and ruining them. This is what a charge controller is designed to prevent. On the low end the inverter will use more power in a day than your panels can possibly make. Which means you’ll be spending some of your evening hours in the dark. In severe cases it may take several days to fully recharge your battery bank.
Using these guidelines you can have something that not only works,but is practical for daily use.
If you would like help with this check out my store: https://seekers-solar.myshopify.com/collections/all
Until next time– Seeker.