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(eBook - Free Energy) - Solar Laptop

(eBook - Free Energy) - Solar Laptop

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32
Home Power #38 December 1993 / January 1994 
Above: A portable solar-powered system runs computers and communications equipment. The system rechargesfrom the sun, an automobile, or from the electric grid wherever you are.
Photo by Richard Perez
Photovoltaic Power for the Permanently Portable 
Richard Perez
 ©1993 Richard Perez
I
really missed my computer on our tripto Colombia last year. So much ofwhat I learned ended up on scribblednotebook pages. So much of what I hadto teach was stuck inside a computerfour thousand miles away. I decidedthen and there that a portable computerwas for me. Here’s a small PV systemthat tucks away in a large briefcase andfrees your computer, radios, printer, orwhat-not, from the tyranny of theextension cord.
Enter the Portable Computers
Our small Macintosh PowerBook is a delightful and fasttool. This small computer allows us to take HomePower’s databases and renewable energy informationanywhere. The problem is that the built-in battery onlylasts about two hours before requiring recharging. Thisis scarcely enough time to work through a long aircraftflight, much less a few weeks in the Andes. At EnergyFairs and events, folks have often asked us for a smallPV system design that would allow the new generationof portable computers to go where the power linesdon’t. I remember one gentleman in particular. He wasemployed by the USGS doing mapping in Alaska. Helived out of a backpack and his range was limited byhow many PowerBook batteries he could carry. Hewould spend all day gathering survey data and feed thisdata to his PowerBook at night. Every few days he
 
33
Home Power #38 • December 1993 / January 1994 
Portable Systems
returned to his base camp and ran a small generator torefill his regiment of PowerBook battery packs.Over the years I have wanted to take a variety ofelectric tools into the outback. But when it really comesdown to it, there are really only two tools that justify thisdegree of expense and effort — computers andcommunications. Communications turns out to be aneasier to solve solar problem than is the computer.Radios and small TVs consume only small amounts ofpower, usually 10 to 40% of the power required for aportable computer. The system described here will notonly support intense use of a portable computer, but willalso run a radio or small TV receiver. This system willsupport CB and Amateur transceivers. I can run my twometer handytalkie (ICOM IC-2SRA), charge an extraHT battery, and run the computer at the same time!
Space — the final frontier
Two things I’ve learned about traveling in the outback — go compact and go rugged. This portable PV systemhad to be small enough to hump up mountain trails andrugged enough to survive a moose attack under fourfeet of water. These two design criteria constantlyclashed during the fabrication of this system. When itcame to a hard choice between lightweight andruggedness, I chose ruggedness.
Power Sources
The successful traveler is an opportunist. When thefood is good, it’s time to eat. When the bed is soft, it’stime to sleep. The happy traveller stores his energiesfor times when the living isn’t so easy. I wanted this PVsystem to be just the same — an opportunist. Thissystem will feed from virtually any electrical powersource — a PV module, a car (12 VDC), and/or thelocal electric grid (either 120 vac, 60 Hz. or 240 vac, 50Hz.).Travelers with special feeding requirements often gohungry. I decided to base this portable system on themost common form of power in the world — 12 VoltsDC. Every country in the world uses automobiles andthey are all 12 VDC systems. Twelve Volt PV modules,batteries, and inverters are readily available andinexpensive.
The PV Modules
The PV modules used in this portable system musthave a high power to weight ratio. I used a SolarexMSX-10, 10 Watt PV module (650 mA at 15.5 VDC)that weighs about 1 pound. This module uses no glassand is rugged enough to survive on the decks ofsailboats. I also put an old Sovonics 6 Watt fold-up PVmodule in the case and can power the system with bothmodules if needed. Ideally two of the Solarex MSX-10Lite PV modules would be better for this system. Since Ialready owned the trusty Sovonics fold-up module, Iused it instead.
Recharging from a Car
This system is designed to plug directly into any car’scigarette lighter socket. An automotivebattery/alternator is a very effective recharging sourcefor this portable system. The system will both rechargeits internal battery and operate the loads from a restingcar battery (no alternator running). The regulatorprovides overcharge protection if the car’s alternator isoperating.
Recharging using 120 vac
A small 120 or 240 vac “wall cube” type power supplyrecharges the system when the grid or a generator isavailable. I used a supply rated at 500 milliAmperes 14Volts DC. Actually this supply has an open circuitvoltage of 16.8 VDC and very nearly replicates theMSX-10 Lite PV module as a power source. This wallcube is about 3 inches on a side and weighs 8 ounces.
The Regulator
I had to design and build the regulator because nocommercial model was available. The system is tinywith maximum recharge currents in the neighborhood of1.2 Amps. The regulator should be able to feed on avariety of power sources and not ever damage thebattery.This regulator is simple, versatile, and bullet-proof. It iscapable of controlling the voltage of the PV module, theincoming car battery power, or the wall cube ac/DCpower supply. I used the LM 317T regulator (RadioShack # 276-1778 for $1.99) not because it is efficient,but because it is virtually indestructible. The LM 317Tcontains internal current limiting (1.5 Amps),overtemperature shutdown, and short circuit shutdown.Since the regulator is inefficient, a manual switch isprovided so the the bulk of the recharging can bypassthe regulator. The system uses a sealed battery, so Iset the regulation point at 14.2 VDC. At this voltage,less than 10 mA is flowing into the battery.
LM317T
VinVoutAdj.1k
2.2k
2.2k
240
1/4 W0.01
µ
F0.01
µ
F1k
Positive15 to 32VDCInputNegativePositiveRegulatedOutput13.2 to 15VDC
1.5 AmpsNegative
 
34
Home Power #38 December 1993 / January 1994 
Portable Systems
I provided the regulator with a blockingdiode to prevent discharge into theregulator when a power source is notpresent. This blocking diode also isolatesthe portable power system’s battery fromcharging sources when the regulator isdefeated by switch S1. All resistors in the regulatorwere
1
 ⁄ 
4
watt. I used a 5 Amp blocking diode eventhough it only handles 1 Amp. The additional mass ofthis heavy diode acts as its heatsink with the regulator’ssealed enclosure. Use a clip on heatsink on the LM317T. I used a plastic enclosure with a sheet metalface, 6 inches long by 3.75 inches wide and 2 inchesdeep (Radio Shack #270-627 for $2.79). The circuitwent together on a small two inch by three inch piece ofperf board mounted inside the enclosure.
The Case
When I first got the PowerBook, I went shopping for acase and didn’t buy one. All the cases I could find weremodeled on Yuppie luggage concepts. I wasn’t going topay over $150 for a cloth case that wouldn’t protect thePowerBook against water, dust, or impact.Then I remembered the Pelican plastic case that JuanLivingstone used to house the video gear on our trip toColombia. This case was so air tight that we’d have toactivate the air vent in order to open the case when welost altitude. These cases are unbreakable, watertight,and dustproof. They carry a lifetime guarantee that onlyspecifically excludes shark bite, bear attack, andchildren under five.I used the Pelican Pro Case model 1550. It measures20.5 inches long by 16.75 inches wide by 8.5 inchesdeep — about the size of a large briefcase. Thesecases are available at most big camera stores and thisone cost $115. I looked long and hard at the nextsmaller size, but it was too small to contain all thepower system equipment and the PowerBook. The1550 case is heavy (about 12 pounds), but after seeingthe routine abuse heaped on our equipment inColombia, I figured that the case was the last place tosave weight.I had originally planned to attach the Solarex MSX-10Lite to the outside of the case. After some thought Idecided to stow the PV module inside the case instead.If the module is mounted on the outside of the case,then the case and its contents must be placed in thesun. I more fancied sitting under a tree with the case,the computer and everything else, and placing just themodule out in the sun. I am loathe to drill holes in thiswonderfully watertight case. I also wonder about PVmodule damage if it is permanently attached to thecase’s exterior.As I finally set up this system, everything stows withinthe case and is capable of the most extreme travelimaginable. The Pelican case came with two “pluck &chuck” foam inserts that allowed me to nestle eachcomponent in its own snug foam pocket. The degree ofprotection offered to both the system components andthe appliances in the case is excellent. This system willbounce down a rutted road in the back of a truck. It cantake being dunked in a mountain stream. No matterhow rough the going gets, this system and its loads willarrive undamaged and ready to go to work.
The Inverter
The inverter allows use of an appliance's stock powersupply. In order to recharge the PowerBook, orAmateur radios, I simply plug their standard powersupplies into the inverter’s 120 vac power. I tried threedifferent inverters in this system, a PowerStar POW200,a Statpower 100, and the new PowerStar PocketSocket (100 watt). All performed equally well whenpowering the loads. The new PowerStar Pocket Socketsmallest 100 watt inverter I have ever seen and isperfectly sized for this system. The larger Statpowermodel while heavier had a lower idle current (50 mA forthe Statpower versus 175 mA for the Pocket Socket).While operating the PowerBook on the system, theinverter consumes about 1.1 Amperes of current. Withthe PowerBook sleeping and recharging its battery, theinverter consumes about 400 milliAmps of current. Anyof the inverters mentioned above still has lots of snortleftover to recharge radio batteries, run a small printer(like a 26 watt Hewlett Packard DeskWriter/Jet), oreven power some compact fluorescent lights. While theinverter may seem oversized for this tiny system, thereis a method in my madness.The inverter allows this portable system to be moreopportunistic. In my experience, much back countrytravel is by car or truck. The 100 watt inverter allowsthis miniPV system to mooch power from a vehicle.Loads being powered by the system’s tiny internalbattery can be transferred to the vehicle’s battery whileit is available.
The Battery
I used a Panasonic model LCR12V6.5P sealed lead-acid, “gel cell” battery. It has a rated capacity of 6.5Ampere-hours at 12 VDC. It weighs in at 4.8 poundsand is the heaviest component of the system, exceptthe PowerBook. Its dimensions are 5.95 inches long by2.54 inches wide by 3.70 inches high. This battery cost$32 from Digi-Key (800-344-4539), and is widelyavailable.I would have liked to carry more battery capacity in thissystem, but its size and weight had reached the limits of
LM317TVinAdjVout

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