Thursday, March 3, 2011

PV Solar System Under $200 Article w/ links


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A popular question is regarding "DIY make your own solar panels". Many people see websites offering this information and assume it is a "from scratch process". The question is actually a bit deceiving and similar to "building your own computer". Making "solar cells" is a complex process using a form of silicon and can best be equated to "making an Intel Processor", not a likely DIY in your garage or backyard task. On the other hand, making a "solar panel" is more like "building a computer" where a pre-manufactured processor is combined with a custom ready to install hard drive etc.

To "build your own solar panels", you can buy pre-manufactured solar cells off the internet, buy the ribbon to hook them together, add a blocking diode, seal them behind glass and save 50¢ to $2.00 a watt.

The "Harbor Freight Model", a 45 watt system with everything you need to get started is about $200 and well worth the expense, if you are getting your feet wet for the first time. This kit is designed to charge 12 volt batteries and comes with a charging controller, two 12 volt compact florescent bulbs and a stand for your roof or yard. All the basic wiring is included. I like this kit because it is durable and produces enough power to charge batteries at a reasonable rate and direct power medium sized DC motors for demonstrations. These kits are also expandable.

So how do you get the power to your house? Your house runs on Alternating Current or AC power so an inverter that converts DC to AC is required. The process is pretty simple. Solar panels hook to the controller and the controller hooks to a deep cycle marine battery. You now have 12 volt DC ready to go. Next, you take the inverter and hook it to your battery. For simple installations you use an extension cord no more than 50 feet in length. This setup is usually good for applications requiring 200-500 watts or less. There are 12 volt inverters that can produce over 3000 watts but these at a full load will drain a single battery in less than an hour. The 45 watt Harbor Freight model charges a drained mid-range deep cycle battery to near full capacity in about 12-24 hours of daytime light. So for more power, you need more panels, and for a longer charge, you need more batteries.

Installing solar directly into your house's electrical circuit breaker requires advanced professional electrical advice and installation. I have consulted a few electricians on the basics and they used their expertise to complete the project offering a solar only single outlet, by combining two of the 45 watt Harbor Freight Models. Remember, this type of installation requires a skilled electrician.

Even if you are using a simple extension cord for a small power application, keep in mind you are dealing with electricity and the risk of getting shocked or a fire hazard exists if done improperly. Read all the instructions that come with the kit you purchase and seek professional advice if you are in doubt. This system offers a low cost entry level solar alternative that produces usable power without draining your wallet.


Harbor Freight Model introduction 45Watt Solar Panels
Assembly HF 45 Watt
Wiring Solar and DC information P2 Solar Series
Wiring Part 3

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Dan Rojas

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