Produce Your Own Energy With A Solar Panel Kit From A Hardware Store
Producing Power With Solar Panels
Research Your Options And Make a Decision
Producing your own power can be a fun and easy project that could grow into an addictive hobby. When I was younger, I always dreamed of making my own electricity from solar panels but was discouraged by how expensive the panels and equipment were. As an adult, I was thrilled when I saw that many hardware retailers, such as Norther Tool and Harbor Freight as well as online retailers, were offering extremely affordable kits consisting of solar panels, a charge controller, wiring, a frame for the panels and in most cases, even including a few fluorescent lights that could be used with the charge controller. While researching which kit I would buy and from what retailer, I discovered that most of the kits ranged in price from about $160 to $300 and produced 45 watts worth of energy.
Harbor Freight 45 Watt Solar Kit
How I Use My System
I settled on a 45 watt kit from Harbor Freight that was on sale for $159.99 and used a 20% off coupon from their flier, bringing my total to $127.99. It consisted of a charge controller with a digital volt-meter, two fluorescent lights that plug into the controller, wiring to connect everything, a metal frame to mount the panels to, as well as three 15 watt solar panels, that together produce a total of 45 watts of electricity in full sunlight.
That might not sound like a lot, but that's the maximum amount of energy the panels produce at any given instant in full sunlight. The sun shines for several hours a day and those panels will produce quite a bit of total energy by the time the sun goes down. You see, electrical energy is measured in watts and electrical consumption is measured as watt-hours. In one hour of full sunlight, those panels could produce 45 watt-hours or 0.045 kilowatt-hours. In two hours, we will have harnessed 90 watt-hours or 0.09 kilowatt-hours, and so on...
At the end of the day, that's a lot of useful electricity we can capture. But we need somewhere to store it for when the sun isn't out. That's why we need what is called a deep cycle battery. These are similar to car batteries, but internally, they're different. I won't go into the details of the variety of deep cycle batteries as that would require quite too much explanation for the scope of this hub. What we need to know is that deep cycle batteries in general, are meant to be charged and discharged more often than car batteries. These are not part of the kits as you can purchase batteries of any capacity that you need to meet your requirements.
For example, I decided to stay cheap, yet go for a large capacity battery. I purchased a 12 volt marine deep cycle battery from Autozone for $89 and it is rated to store approximately 85 amp-hours. In terms of watt-hours, we multiply the 12 volts by the 85 amp-hours to find that it stores 1020 watt-hours. This is equivalent to just shy of 23 hours worth of sun shining on the solar panels.
With the charge controller, its easy to use this energy because it includes a 12 volt direct current or DC outlet. I use this to plug in my laptop's car charger to recharge its battery and run on clean energy produced from the sun. In order to power household devices and things that operate on alternating current or AC, we'll need what's called an inverter. Inverters change 12 volt DC electricity into 120 volt AC electricity that can be used to power televisions, lamps, chargers, etc. Inverters come in various sizes, capacity and features. I don't recommend trying run a many devices from this type of kit and battery, but it can provide many hours of lighting at night with a compact fluorescent or LED bulb or enough juice to recharge a few laptops, so an inverter that can provide at most 500 watts of electricity is appropriate for this setup.
This was a relatively inexpensive way for me to get my feet wet and try to produce my own energy. I'm also ready to start expanding this setup to produce and store more energy and become a little less dependent upon fossil fuel generated electricity.