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Solar power is one of the most reliable forms of alternative energy. That is why it is at the top of most Prepper’s equipment purchaselists. The problem is; it remains at the top of our purchase list and is continually skipped over. This is because getting started in solarpower can be confusing, and even more expensive. But, what if it was not that confusing, and depending on your needs, not thatexpensive… Would you take the plunge?
amp charge controller. But, if you have two 100 watt solar panels (or 11.4 amps),then the solar array will exceed the maximum 7 amp input of the charge controller.Therefore, you will need another charge controller, or purchase a charge controllerthat can handle the more than the 11.4 amps.For more information on wiring 12 volt electrical systems, please readManaging 12 Volts: How to Upgrade, Operate, and Troubleshoot 12 Volt Electrical Systems
Understanding Power Requirements
Now that the basic solar components havebeen discussed, we will now switch tounderstanding power requirements. Eachelectronic device that you use will require acertain amount of power. Your solar panelsand battery bank work on DC power. Any 12volt electronic device can work directly off ofyour panel / battery bank, think items that youwould plug into your car’s cigarette lighter. Ifyou have AC only devices, or something thatplugs into a wall, then you will need a powerinverter to convert the DC power generatedfrom the panel and battery bank to AC power.Each device will also have its own power pull. To explain this, let’s analyze thecommon types of light bulbs currently on the market.
1 x 75 Watt incandescent bulb uses 6.25 amps (Watts/Volts=Amps)1 x 25 Watt Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) uses 2.1 Amps1 x 16 Diode LED light uses .12 Amps
Using the above examples, you can use 18 x 16 diode LEDs for the same powerpull as a single CFL light bulb, and 52 x 16 diode LEDs per each incandescent bulb.It makes more sense to use LED lights for solar applications. When purchasingelectronic devices that will be used on alternative energy systems, you mustidentify the device’s power consumption. Similar items can require signicantlyless power than their counterparts. Efciency is the key when using off-grid power.
For any alternative energy system, you will need to scale the system to yourindividual needs. If you need to power a refrigerator, air conditioner, andentertainment center, you will need to have several large solar panels, and a largebattery bank. But, if your goals are to only run a few lights and recharge smallelectronic devices, then your system can be signicantly smaller. To put this inperspective RVers that bondock (camping off of the grid for extended periodsof time), may have 600-800 watts of solar panels and over 400 amp hours ofbattery storage. This type of system can be extremely expensive (over $5,000). Incontrast, hikers may only carry a small exible solar panel to charge their portableelectronics devices. Some of these portable systems can cost less than $100.While these examples are on the opposite ends of using solar power, it provides agood perspective into how we could use solar power.
The $150 Solar Kit
Solar Components – A Very Basic Overview
Before you start sketching your solar system, you must rst understand thedifferent components. Whether you are interested in an entire-home system, oronly powering emergency lighting or a small radio, the principles are the same.The primary components for a solar system are panels, batteries, and a chargecontroller. The quantity and size of these primary items depends on the size of yoursystem. And with each new item, the cost of the project goes up.
Solar panels come in many different shapesand sizes, and can range from less than1 watt to over 250 watts per panel. Thelarger the solar panel, the more amperage itcreates. Solar panels also come in differentvoltage congurations. The most common are12 and 24 volt panels. You can use a solarpanel to run an individual device, or use it tocharge a battery.
Batteries store power. In your vehicle, thealternator charges your battery. In a solarsystem, the solar panel charges your battery. If you are using more than onebattery, it is called a battery bank. For batteries, you need to know how many amphours are contained in your battery / battery bank, and know the voltage for yoursystem. The more amp hours contained in your battery bank, the more reservepower you will have. The most common type of battery used for alternative energyapplications are deep cycle batteries. Additionally, most deep cycle batteries are 2,6, or 12 volt. Depending how you wire your battery bank, will determine whetheryou increase voltage or amp hours. If you wire in parallel, you increase amp hours.If you wire in series, you increase voltage.
The charge controller is the heart of the solar system. In a solar setup, the panelsare connected to the charge controller, and then the charge controller is connectedto your batteries. A charge controller is used to maintain the proper chargingvoltage of your batteries, by regulating the charge to the batteries and preventingovercharging. There are several types of charge controllers, to include MPPT, PWM,and PWM shunt controllers. A charge controller is designed to handle a certainamount of input amps from your solar panels. Additionally, you must ensure yourcharge controller matches the voltage of your solar panels and battery bank. If youare using a 12 volt panel and a 12 volt battery bank, then you should have a 12 voltcompatible charge controller.The goal to any solar system is to make sure you can expand it. You can add moresolar panels, batteries, and even charge controllers. When designing a system, youmust determine how many amps your solar panel or solar array will generate, andensure that total is less than the charge controller’s maximum input. Let’s say a100 watt solar panel generates 5.7 amps of power. You have a charge controllerthat has a maximum of 7 amps input. The 100 watt panel can be used with the 7