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Solar Power: So Much Fun!

For as many years as I can remember, I have been completely enchanted by alternative energy sources. Capturing a tiny drop of the sun’s massive nuclear-reactive power (386 billion billion megaWatts) is a fascinating concept.

My own “solar project” started last year when my ham-radio buddy Mike Neal sent me an email to let me know that Harbor Freight was having a sale on solar panels.  With a $30 coupon (gifted to me from a fellow Ham), I got the $229 solar panels for $159. (The original price for the panels was $229, with a sale price of $189. The $30 coupon got me to $159.)

Because I’m highly allergic to big crowds and sprawling malls and loud noises and spinning children and fluorescent lights, I paid the extra six bucks to have the unit shipped directly to my house.

It took about 12 hours to install the kit, and it was a fun project. And watching those photovoltaic cells turn the sunlight into electricity is every bit as fun as I’d thought it would be.

If I were queen of the world (and it shouldn’t be long now), I’d recommend that every homeowner in America have a set of these on their roof. It was a great learning experience. Forty-five watts isn’t much, but it’s enough to run a ham radio and charge up a few cell phones.

I’ve shared all the nitty-gritty details below.

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The little red shed in our back yard is now electrified, thanks to the sun and some photovoltaic cells on the roof. Each panel produces 15 watts, for a total of 45 watts.

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"THUNDERBOLT" seems like a curious name for a solar product.

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Were it not for plastic zip ties, installation would have taken much longer. One downside of solar power is, you have to keep the panels free of obstructions. The pine trees and the birds are conspiring against me here.

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Getting the leads into the shed took a little planning. Ultimately, I decided to drill a hole (3/4") through the 2x4 (and roof). It is easier to patch a tidy hole in a 2x4, rather than trying to patch a hole in tired old roofing shingle.

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Using weather-proofing tape (not sure that's its official name), I bound the three incoming wires together (from the panels) and poked them through the 3/4" hole into the shed. For the tiny gaps that remained, I used a compound putty substance (again, don't know the name but it looks a lot like Silly Putty). Back in the day, an old buddy told me it was called "Dum Dum" because you use it to patch a dumb mistake. However, I'd like to point out that it should be called "Smart Smart" in this particular application.

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The controller that came with the solar panels is both entertaining and fancy. Its job is to prevent an accidental overcharge or discharge ot the storage battery. The digital display is large and easy to read.

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Inside,

Inside, the wires drop down from above and into the controller (right side on the shelf above the battery). From there, the wires go into the 12-volt deep cycle Marine battery. Another set of wires carries the power from the battery back to the inverter (left side on the shelf). The inverter turns the 12-volt current into 120 volts (for household use). Like I said, it's all highly entertaining!

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Another nice bonus that came with this set are these 12-volt LED lights. They do a good job of illuminating the dark corners of our little shed.

Another nice bonus that came with this set are two of these 12-volt LED lights. They give off a surprising amount of light, and brighten up the dark corners of our red shed.

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The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for  $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

The inverter (shown above) was not included in the kit. This 750-watt inverter also came from Harbor Freight. I also got it on sale. As I recall, it was $69 on sale for $49, and I found a $10 coupon. Final price $39.

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The obstacle that kept me from starting this project was, lack of knowledge. Despite my reading and studying, I did not understand how all these components worked together. I asked Mike Neal, "What's the difference between a 200-watt inverter and a 750-watt inverter?" (After all, the 200-watt inverter was far less expensive). Mike explained, "Think of the battery as a bucket full of water. You can draw that water out with a swizzle stick or a milk-shake straw. The 200-watt inverter is a swizzle stick. The 750-watt inverter is a milk-shake straw."

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My wonderful neighbor (another Mike) was also a helper in the project. I told him that I needed a deep-cycle marine battery and he got me a good deal on one at a local marine supply warehouse. This battery weighs about 50 pounds. I set it up on cinder blocks to make it easier to access, and I put the OSB down because I'd heard that batteries might discharge if placed directly atop masonry.

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The

The last part of the project required anchoring the panels to the roof. In that the panels sit so high above the roof, they'd become a sail next time a hurricane roars through. Our solution was to tether the pvc frame to the opposite side of the shed. For the tether, I used 10-gauge stranded copper grounding wire.

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Close-up of the tether on the PVC frame. It's not super taut, but it doesn't need to be. It's anchored into the steep side of the shed roof with an eye-bolt.

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Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such aas the many tall trees in our yard,

Hubby and I spent countless hours figuring out the correct angle for these panels. There were many factors such as the big old tall trees in our yard. And yet, I'm happy to report, the system works VERY well!

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Total cost of the entire project:

Solar Panels - $159 plus $6 shipping (and tax)

Interstate battery - $114

750-watt inverter - $39

Battery terminals - $8

Wiring - $5 (thanks Dollar General!)

Incidentals - about $20 (zip ties, pipe clamps, tape)

Total investment: $351

Entertainment value: Endless! :)

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To learn more about why Ham Radio is so relevant and important TODAY, click here.

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

If you wish to contact Rosemary, please leave a comment below.

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  1. Andrew Mutch
    September 28th, 2013 at 10:47 | #1

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve thought of getting solar panels for my south facing roof of my garage.

    It would provide some solar power but not take away from the aesthetics of my Sears house.

    But the bigger payback for me would probably be a solar water heater. Now that could really generate some savings!!

  2. Linda Castillo
    September 29th, 2013 at 20:24 | #2

    I read this to my husband and he is going to do something similar to our shed where he can use some electricity. Thanks for the idea.

  3. Brent
    October 7th, 2013 at 18:22 | #3

    Have you had any problems with water getting in the panels ? Am also a ham and that is why I have them.

    73’s
    KC8PQN

  4. October 7th, 2013 at 20:21 | #4

    @Brent
    Hi Brent,

    I just purchased my second set of these and another deep-cycle marine battery. Heretofore, I have not had any trouble with water getting into the panels.

    However, when it’s time for the next upgrade, I’m going with this: http://www.amazon.com/RENOGY-Monocrystalline-Photovoltaic-Battery-Charging/dp/B009Z6CW7O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381191697&sr=8-1&keywords=solar+100+watts

    This looks like a better product, all the way around.

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