How to set up solar power

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Hey folks, I’ve had a few questions about the setup in my shed so I thought I’d write a post to show how to set up a system like mine. I think the most common use for this is going to be grow lights or shed lights, but you can scale it up to use pretty much anything that runs off of electric power.

First of all you need a solar panel – I’d recommend something around the 30 Watts mark if you are just going to be using this for lighting. It all depends on how many lights and how long you need them for. You can normally find a 30 Watt panel for around £30 to £40.

Essentially, in the Scottish winter (which is when you’ll need the lights) we get about 5 or 6 hours of decent light each day. If you have a 30 Watt solar panel, you are generating 30 Watts of electric for 5 hours. So that means you can use a 30 Watt bulb in your shed for 5 hours, or two 30 Watt bulbs for half the time. A 90 Watt grow light would probably only run for just over an hour.

Next up you’ll need something that connects the solar panel to a battery – the ‘Charge Controller’. A lot of solar panels come with a charge controller, but if not you can pick one up fairly cheaply, around £10 to £20. Most charge controllers actually come with a USB socket so you can plug USB lights, water fountains, fans etc directly into it. This basically stops the battery getting over-charged and damaged.

You’ll also need a battery. Most 12 Volt rechargeable batteries will work here, but the important detail to look for is how many Ampere Hours can be stored in the battery. I started off with an old 12 Volt moped battery which ran at about 6 Ah. On a full charge, that battery would only store enough energy to power a 30 Watt bulb for a couple of hours, so your battery quickly becomes a limiting factor. If you have a small USB light with a really low wattage, then this battery would do fine. The higher the ‘Ah’ rating the better. My current battery is 100 Ah and is a ‘leisure battery’ that you generally find in a caravan or canal boat. This would power a 30 Watt bulb for around 40 hours so is more than enough!

The battery is likely to be your most expensive purchase as batteries don’t age very well so probably have to invest in a new one for it to hold charge very well. You can get a 100 Ah leisure battery for £70 – but can easily pay up to £150 for a really high spec one.

The last thing you’ll need if you are wanting to run anything other than USB powered electrics is an ‘inverter’. This basically changes the voltage from 12 Volts on the battery to the same as your mains voltage at home. The thing to look for on an inverter is the Wattage rating, this is the maximum amount of power you can use at any one time. I have a 300 Watt inverter and that will run things like bulbs, grow lights, pumps, tvs, laptop chargers etc. If you are going to want to use power tools then you’ll need a much larger inverter. You can pick up a decent inverter for £30 (depending on how much power you need).

I hope that this was helpful – if you have any questions just swing by and ask 🙂 – Geoff

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