Solar Emergency Power

Small Power Systems: Solar Emergency Power

Getting your entire home off the electrical grid can be very expensive. However, building a small system that uses solar power to give you to give you an alternative source of energy for some crucial equipment (laptop, cell phone, lights, 12 volt heating blanket, etc) in the event of a power blackout is not very costly at all. Making a solar power backup system is very practical and an easy first step in the direction of personal energy independence and security.

For most people, the cost of converting their entire home to run on solar power is likely to be overwhelming. While there may be families which could spend $20,000 to $25,000 for a complete, professional system, there are few “average” families that can even dream of doing this. One answer is to create your own alternative solar power system little-by-little.

To be practical, your first emergency power system should be:

  • Easy to build
  • Inexpensive
  • Made from commonly available components
  • Easy to operate and maintain

There is a great deal to know about solar power and solar power systems and for that reason, getting started is much easier if you keep it extremely simple and learn as you go without spending a lot of money on it to start with.

For this reason, we won’t worry about what is the “best” way to do it; instead, we’ll focus on something that works well enough and that can be improved upon later, if you wish.

This simple system will be good enough to operate your computer, monitor, some lights and perhaps a small battery charger in the event of a power blackout.

Creating Your First Solar Backup Power System

The materials you will need are:1. Heavy-duty 12 volt automotive battery, preferably, one used for a truck or other heavy equipment. (We’ll go over all about which batteries are best in another article.) 12 Volt battery
2. Inverter. This is a device that changes direct current (DC) – such as batteries store – to alternative current (AC) 120 volts that normal household appliances use. The really good ones can get expensive but for powering a laptop computer, recharging your phone, running a small TV or DVD player, running some lights, etc., an inexpensive one from Walmart or Radio Shack will do fine. A 375 watt inverter might cost you around $50; a 220 watt model might cost you as little as $17.

A typical low-cost inverter – this one is rated at 375 watts and costs $47 at Walmart.


3. Cables and any adapters to connect the inverter to the battery. Usually they come with cables and alligator clamps or a cigarette lighter adapter. You’ll have to check the model you buy to see what it needs. Cables
4. DIY solar panel building demonstration video. There are several decent versions out there. A video is far better than any written instructions or even pictures, and makes the whole process very easy to understand.
Any of these popular educational kits will do:
GreenDIYEnergyGreen DIY Energy Box Earth4EnergyEarth4Energy Box
For reviews of these products, go to DIY Solar Video Training Kit Reviews.

5. Multi-meter. This is an electrical device for measuring volts and amps that will be used for a variety of purposes as you go along.

Multimeter

A $7 multi-mete
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6. DIY solar panel components kit. If you are building your first panel, get a small kit that will enable you to build one 65 watt panel. This is all you will need to start with. After you build your first one, you will understand the whole process.
For your first panel, I would recommend getting the 40-cell kit from MLSolar. Go to E-bay and for these search terms: “40 3×6 Solar Cell Kit with tabbing, bus, flux, diode”. Everything else you will need you should be able to get at a local hardware store.
Solar Cell Kit

A typical 36 to 40 solar cell kit available on E-bay

A typical 36 to 40 solar cell kit available on E-bay

Using Your Basic Solar Emergency Power System

  1. Attach your solar panels directly to your battery to recharge it as needed. HOWEVER! since this is a very basic system, there is no charge controller – which is a device that prevents your battery from getting overcharged. Instead, you are going to have to check your battery’s charge with your volt meter every few hours while it is charging. This is not hard to do but don’t forget! There is much more to know about this but the basic rule is do not let your battery charge to more than 12.6 to 13 volts.
  2. The inverter should be attached directly to the battery, either during or after charging.
  3. Plug your vital low-wattage AC appliances into the inverter or use any adapters necessary to power your DC equipment.
  4. Your emergency power system is now ready to use.