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Personal Solar Power

Updated on June 19, 2013

Solar Power

We have all heard how great solar power is and how renewable power sources are becoming increasingly necessary for saving mankind. While renewable energy like wind power and solar power creates great savings both to the environment and the pocketbook, the truth of the matter is that the upfront cost are high. The cost of installing enough solar power to serve a household can be in the ten's of thousands of dollars. Even converting just your hot water system , a major user of electric, to solar power can cost over a thousand dollars. While solar systems are still a major expense, the cost and efficiency of individual components have improved greatly to the point where small uses which a few years ago were limited to science fairs or novelty toys can now have practical uses.

What is a Solar Power System

It really does not matter if were talking of a system to power a community or to power a toy car the principal and components are the same. The differences are in capacity. The basic principal is that a solar system is a battery charger. We are all familiar with recharging our cell phones. To recharge a battery in your cell phone, you connect the output of the charger to your cell phone, you then plug the charger into a wall socket and let the phone charge. After a period of time the cell phone battery becomes fully charge and it stops charging. Often the phone will beep or a light will indicate a full charge. In this situation the device we plug into the wall is a transformer that converts the AC electric whether 110v or 220v down to a dc voltage around 5v. This 5vdc is applied to the phone charging system. The phone has a regulator that controls the flow of voltage into the battery. When the regulator senses that the battery is full, it stops the flow of voltage to the charge which feeds the battery.

A solar power system works in the same manner just some minor differences. Instead of AC voltage and a transformer as a power source we have a solar panel. The panels are photovoltaic cells that are wired together. These cells produce small electrical charges when struck by light. The more intense the light the greater the output. The output is still very small from each cell but by wiring hundreds or more often thousands of these cells together a suitable voltage and micro-amps can be achieved. The output of the solar panel supplies the charging system. The charger and regulator is often integrated into one device and feeds the electrical power to the battery to charge it. After a measure of time we have a fully charged battery to use as we see fit. In larger systems some or all of the power from the batteries are applied to inverters to create an AC power that can supply most household needs.

Cell Phone Charger

Quick Way to Recharge Cell Phones on the Go
Quick Way to Recharge Cell Phones on the Go

What Is its Realistic Use it on a Small Scale

I use solar power in three modest ways. I am sure they do not really have a great environmental impact but as the saying goes every little bit helps plus each has its own benefits. I enjoy walking and at least once a week I try to take a long walk that is a couple of hours long. For a number of reasons I like to keep track of my walks. My friends say I have too much technology around me and that is even true when I walk. I have an walking app called sports tracker on my smart phone that using the phones gps functions to map and record my progress. I have a heart rate monitor made by polars that monitors my heart rate and sends It by blue-tooth to my smart-phone which feeds it to the walking app. Sometimes I will also listen to music as I walk. Under normal operating conditions the phones battery will last for days, however using the gps, blue-tooth, walkman, wifi and phone features all at once really drains the battery. Sometimes it will run out of power before I do. What I needed was a manner to recharge my smart-phone while walking. This is the first and the one I use the most of my three modest ways, it is a solar power bank. This device is about the size of an average cell phone and is light in weight. The front is mostly a solar cell that when exposed to sunlight will charge its internal battery. Charging is slow, while the manufacture says six to eight hours of sunlight to reach a full charge, I would say ten hours is a better estimate. I keep this device fully charge and sitting by a window when I am not using it. When I go on long walk I take the device with me. When I notice that my smart-phone battery is getting low, I simply take out my solar power bank, connect it to my smart-phone and continue my walk. The power bank will recharge my phone faster than the phone is using power. One charge of my solar bank will fully recharge a smart-phone with enough left over to recharge another small cell phone. Power banks are inexpensive and vary in price by capacity. The one I use cost about $10.

Solar Panel and LED Light

This  solar panel the size of a piece of notebook paper can charge a battery in 8 hours to run three of these lights up to 8 hours
This solar panel the size of a piece of notebook paper can charge a battery in 8 hours to run three of these lights up to 8 hours

Solar Power Emergency lights

In the Philippines the onset of typhoon (similar to Hurricanes) season bring power outages. The power outages may only be short or could last for days. They always seem to last longer than standard emergency lights. I have a device that the manufacture calls a solar energy kit. It has a solar panel about 8 inches by 12 inches that connects to a control box with built in regulator and battery. The solar panel is waterproof and can be installed outdoors where it gets the most light with the cable running inside to the control box. The control box has four outputs, three are used for lights and one to charge cell phones or similar devises. The lights are low voltage LED units. The LED's are somewhat focus so I need two to cover the lighting needs of my living room. The unit is light weigh about the size of a thick paperback book so can be easily placed where I need. Just unplug from the solar cell. Full charge takes about 8 hours in full sun and gives about 8 hours of emergency lights. Under heavy rain and very cloudy conditions the system will not fully charge in a day, however even under those conditions if necessary you should still be able to get four to six hours of lights. Another great use for this system is camping. Hang the panel on the outside of your tent or on your backpack and let the sun recharge it during the day to provide a night time of light. Speaking of lights I have another small device that I use. The area where I live can be very dark at night. I have a small solar power garden lamp near my front door. That way if I come home later than I expected I have some light on my porch. The light automatic comes on a dusk and last about 6 hours

Battery Charger

Recharges Batteries by Solar
Recharges Batteries by Solar

Yep, Recharge Those Batteries

Okay this is a real simple one. All of the AA,AAA and D size batteries I use are rechargeable. The AA size is the most used. I recharge my batteries in a solar charger, with a spare set of AA always ready. I can place the batteries that need to be recharged into the solar charger, it it near a window and let I be. When the batteries are charged the charger will go to standby but keep a trickle charge when needed. A traditional charger will do the same however it will continue to draw power and may overheat.

While my use of Solar will not change the world, or even have a significant reduction in my electric bill. However each device I use also have an additional advantage.


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