So, you’ve seen the figures on solar power and you want a piece of the action. But the price of commercial installations is shocking! With even the big installers stating that their systems will take years to pay for themselves, your dream of installing 5kW of panels and selling your surplus back to the local power company may remain a fantasy.
So what is a do-it-yourselfer to do?
Well, how about starting small?
Absolute minimum is a pocket charger for your phone or iPod. These are handy gadgets and they help you ‘think solar’.
Next step up is a self-contained solar yard light. You can set it to store energy during the day and light up the path when you get home after dark. SolarSetPoint.com makes some nice ones.
Not ambitious enough? If you’ve got a shed or cabin in the garden, why not put a panel or two on the roof? With a few simple components, you can go ‘off the grid’ in your own solar-powered workroom.
A basic setup might include: a roof-mounted solar panel, a power controller, a big battery for power storage, and some halogen lights. You can buy a solar kit, or assemble your own. We found lots of suitable controllers on eBay for a few bucks, but our favorite, from browndoggadgets.com, works with robust 12V components and has an extra USB power output so you can power your small portable computer or other USB devices without a special DC adapter. (Let’s hope your wi-fi network operates in the yard!)
More? Instructables.com has a ton of neat solar projects.
Systems like these really need a couple of panels. If you don’t want to pay full price, Mike Davis has an excellent tutorial on building your own panels from cheap cells. But it’s not for the faint-hearted…
If you have cash to spare, a bigger budget buys a more elaborate kit and more gadgets. The neatest we’ve seen is Sundaya’s Ulitium system, which includes lighting, appliances and even an LCD television. Each item has its own inbuilt batteries and power management — just wire them to a panel and you’re good to go.
But even expensive DC systems like this are standalone. You’ll need yet more gizmos if you want to wire your solar panels up to your AC appliances — and maybe the grid.