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Solar Power: So Much Fun (Part II)

November 21st, 2015 Sears Homes No comments

Three years ago (November 20, 2012) I did a blog on my first foray into the world of solar energy. Since then, I’ve added and upgraded my system a bit. I’ve taken a break from traveling and writing about kit homes, so I thought I’d do a blog today on my new “solar system.”

If you have any questions or insights, please leave a comment below!

To read about Sears Homes, click here.

Want to read my prior blog on solar energy? Here’s the link.

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Solar

Three years ago, I installed my first "solar system" on my little back yard shed.

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I purchased this "Thunderbolt" solar panel kit from Harbor Freight. Thunderbolt strikes me as a silly name, but it's a good solid product. Each panel produces 15 watts.

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This Spring, we had a new roof put on the house and shed, and after we had that work done, I couldnt bear to put those solar panels back on the pretty new roof.

This Spring, we had a new roof put on the house and shed, and after we had that work done, I couldn't bear to put those solar panels back on the pretty new roof.

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Instead, I decided maybe it was time to upgrade a little bit.

Instead, I decided maybe it was time to upgrade a little bit. Pre-new roof, I had two sets of three panels atop the little shed roof. Each set of three produced 45 watts. The Thunderbolt solar panels were amorphous thin-film panels (older technology) while the newer panel (shown here on the side) is a crystalline panel which produces 100-watts with a single panel.

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And it looks snappy, too. The panel is manufactured by Renogy.

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I mounted the solar panel to the wall using a 360-degree flat-screen TV mount. It was on sale at Amazon for $19 and was exactly what I needed. This model has a feature (probably undesirable to many) that after the arm is pivoted where you want it, it can be tightened into place so it never moves again.

I mounted the solar panel to the wall using a 360-degree flat-screen TV mount. It was on sale at Amazon for $19 and was exactly what I needed. This model has a feature (probably undesirable to many) that after the arm is pivoted into position, it can be tightened into place so it never moves again.

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And mounting it on the side means I didnt need to drill fresh holes in that expensive new roof.

And mounting it on the side means I didn't need to drill fresh holes in that expensive new roof.

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Ive now got three 12-volt deep cycle marine batteries.

Inside, there were some upgrades too. I've now got three 12-volt deep cycle marine batteries. The battery on the floor is the one I use for my trolling motor, when I go out on the lake.

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Prior to last week, I was using this MPPT solar charge controller

Prior to last week, I was using this MPPT solar charge controller. This little jewel cost $130 on Amazon and lasted only five months before it died. And it didn't die easy. It took out one of my digital meters when it went. Plus, it didn't just stop charging the battery; it was actually draining the batteries down to 4 volts. MPPT stands for Maximum Power Point Tracking.

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You can read more about MPPT by clicking here. It’s a webpage unto itself.

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This was

Shown above is the PWM (pulse width modulation) solar charge controller than came with the 100-watt Renogy panel. We'll see how it does. It's the dirt-poor cousin of the MPPT solar charge controller. If it lasts more than five months, it'll be my new hero.

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Upgrade

With those three batteries, I was able to upgrade the inverter a bit, too. Shown above is a 1600-watt inverter. The green display shows the current charge on the battery. The now-dead meter above showed the incoming voltage on the solar panels.

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And I added a few lights, too.

And I added a few lights, too. Inside, I have four LED 12-volt lights. I mounted this one outside. It's also available at Amazon for the low, low price of $11.97 (or was). This small fixture puts out a surprising amount of light.

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The old solar set-up was a lot of fun, and it lives on at Miltons house (my buddy and next-door neighbor). Three years later, its still performing like a champ.

The old solar set-up was a lot of fun, and it lives on at Milton's house (my buddy and next-door neighbor). Three years later, it's still performing like a champ.

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Solar Power: So Much Fun!

September 28th, 2013 Sears Homes 7 comments

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 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.

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

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