Baby Steps Towards Solar Power

Like many, I’ve always found the idea of generating power from the sun an attractive idea. I even went as far as to calculate how many panels and batteries I would need to power my whole apartment from solar – fridge, lighting, the whole lot. Needless to say, it came out a little pricey and I didn’t pursue it any further.  With the current prices of solar panels and batteries, the initial investment in solar doesn’t pay for itself for many years so for most of us, the best reason to try solar is not financial. However, there are 2 good reasons to try it –

1) You don’t have access to cheap electricity from the grid, or

2) You want to do it because you think solar is cool.

Number 2) was my reason for wanting to go solar. I still haven’t been able to justify the cost of a 100w panel, which would quite comfortably power my whole QRP station, plus probably an LED light or two for the occasional power-out, but when I saw 2 very small panels on eBay that looked like they might go cheap, I figured that they’d be a good way to have a bit of cheap fun with the sun.

I won the auction and got 2 x 1.8 watt panels for $12.50 plus 9.95 shipping for a total of around $22. Less than 4W of panels won’t exactly provide a ton of power, but they’ll run my regen, which only consumes around 13mA at 13.8V and a QRPp TX too, as long as I’m not running the TX a lot.

Here’s my super-professional panel installation on the balcony of my house:

About 30 feet of cable leads into my window and into a cheap charge controller I also got from eBay. The charge controller and battery (which is just above the controller in the photo below) are sitting on top of a bunch of stuff on my desk, so you’re looking down on them from above. The iPod in the background runs 24 hours and provides programming for my Part 15 AM operation which I recently started up again on 1600KHz:

Now I have a system that can power my WBR Regen and my 2 transistor Pixie-based transmitter. I’m independent of the grid! When society falls apart, and scared local residents need to get word to the outside world of our predicament, they’ll come flocking to me with my solar-powered regen and 170mW 40M CW transmitter!

Well, maybe not.

When I’m not building slightly more adventurous projects, this is the kind of stuff I fiddle around with on a daily basis.


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