Solar Power on the Cheap – Part 1

With the global warming on the rise and energy consumption a hot topic we would all like to be free of the power companies and live a more green lifestyle. So how do we do that if you don’t have thousands to spend on installing solar panels? The truth is we all need to start somehow, no matter how small. This is how I made my first step towards free energy…

Whether its for your house, shed, workshop or off grid location this blog should give you and idea of how to get started. You can buy complete solar setup but these aren’t cheap so with the more second hand solar equipment coming onto the market so why not build your own?

First off, I am not an electrician or a rocket scientists so if I can do it then so can you – just a few basic tools and a bit of web savvy can get you a long way.
This is a rough guide in simple term of how i set my PV (Photovoltaic) system up there is plenty of reference material out there should you wish to delve any further.

This is a 2 part series Part 1 will be about sourcing of the parts needed and Part 2 will be the build and installation.

The Theory:
Sunshine > Solar Panel > Cables > Solar Charge Controller > Battery Storage > 240V Inverter = Power Supply

The Objective

To get cheap components for a renewable power supply for use in my workshop/office to run lighting, computers and a few other pieces of equipment. The budget for this I hope not to exceed £550 – with some luck you may be able to come in well under my budget.

The plan is to source the expensive items such as batteries and inverter second hand and buy the cheaper components like cables, solar charge controller and new – the new items are comparatively cheap to buy.

Sourcing of each component and what they do

Second Hand Components:

Solar Panels – Ebay, Facebook Marketplace (£45-75ea)

Second hand solar panels are becoming more available now with Panels 180-210w being about £50 or less if you buy a few.

Batteries – Sourced second hand off eBay.

I’m going to go for used fork lift batteries as energy storage is what will enable you to use the system when the sun goes down. Fork lift batteries are deep cycle and can store a lot of voltage – the budget for this is £250-£300.

 

240v Inverter – Ebay Amazon (£50-£150 depending on rating required)

To convert the stored 12v DC energy into usable power you’ll need an inverter which does what it says and gives you 240v output that you can use for your devices.
They all have a rating which you need to match you power needs. I’m going to go for a 2000/4000w inverter which should be sufficient for me. Inverters can be picked up second hand too but are less available than a new ones.

 

New Components:

Solar Charge Controller – eBay or Amazon £10-£25

This device regulates the voltage from your solar panels which can be up to 36v to a 12v supply to your batteries. Without this controller/regulator the voltage would be pumped straight into your batteries and could cause you a whole heap of trouble so a charge controller is essential.

40 Amp Solar Charge Controller

Solar charge controllers are rated by amperage and you will need one able to cope with the number of solar panels you are going to hook up to it. I will go for a 40 Amp controller as the 210w panels I will be using have a working current of just under 6 amps so I would be able to connect 6 panels to it if I needed to and the charge controller would still not be at its maximum capacity (6x6A = 36A < 40A Solar Charge Controller.

While a basic solar charge controller will have indicator buttons to show whats connected I find the ones with LCD displays give you readouts of the charge state of your batteries, current flowing in and load on the system plus other features are worth the small additional cost.

Cables – eBay or Amazon
Obviously, the length of cables you will need depend on where you are going to site your panels. Cables are readily available at about £1/m – I will use 4mm solar cable with connectors already attached.

4mm Solar Cable with MC4 Connectors

MC4 Connectors – eBay or Amazon
These are industry standard connectors which give a weatherproof seal. For connecting multiple solar panels you will need branch connectors which are readily available to connect multiple panels to a single supply cable to your Solar Charge Controller.

MC4 Connectors

MC4 Connector Tool – eBay or Amazon
The MC4 connectors are great you’ll but once clicked into place you will need a special tool when you need separate the cables – otherwise its very fiddly.

MC4 Connector Tool

12 Volt LED Display – eBay or Amazon
For easy of checking what the current voltage is in the batteries I will be installing a simple LED voltage display which I can see pretty much from anywhere in my workshop at a glance rather than going over and checking the SCC LCD display.

12v LED Display

Self Built:

The Battery Cabinet
I will build a cabinet to contain the batteries and charge controller so that its packaged and protected nicely.

A sheet of 8x4ft 12mm chipboard from my local DIY superstore should do just the job. I’ll have them make 2 long cuts to give me the panels I needed as the basis of the cabinet. This along with some wood screws, a few length of battens should be all you need.

Self Build Battery Box
Self Built Storage for Batteries, Solar Charge Controller and Inverter

Hopefully that’s given you an idea of whats required to make your own solar setup.

In the next blog I will be building the battery box and connecting everything up and start producing and storing some free energy!

Go to Part 2 of this Blog here

Additonal Reference Material

Off grid Solar Power Andrea Hicks
Off Grid Solar Power

    

Off Grid and Mobile Solar Power for Everyone
Off Grid and Mobile Solar Power for Everyone

 

 

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