Friday, July 27, 2012

Solar Powered Shed - The Idea

This post is the first, of what I hope turns out to be many, posts about some fairly major projects that we hope to undertake. They are all on a list of future projects, but this one is likely to be the one most likely to be worked on anytime soon, so I thought I'd go ahead and do a post about it. There will be several more posts to come, as I progress through the research, planning, design, purchasing, and eventually building phases. Every project must start with an idea, however, and that is what I have right now.

The shed, which currently serves as storage for all sorts of things, has no electricity. Eventually I hope to turn the shed into a tool shed, and perhaps even have a work bench out there so I can work on small projects even when its raining. Having electricity at the shed would make that much easier. I could run electricity from the house, as its not too far from the breaker box (less than 100 ft), but I think I'd like to try installing a small PV system instead. Even though a PV system will cost significantly more than just running wire up to the shed, it will be a great learning experience, which should in turn save me time and money when we decide to do a larger PV system, such as when we build a house. I'm thinking of it as an investment in education.

My goal is to provide enough electricity to power some small items, such as lights, a fan, a radio, and battery charger, as well as occasionally run some power tools such as a circular saw or small air compressor. My first step is going to be researching the power requirements of the items I plan to run, including tools I don't have yet such as the air compressor, to determine what my needs will be.  I suspect that it may be somewhat tricky to figure this out, as usage will be very irregular. I'll likely plan for regular use of small draws, such as lights, and only using the larger tools every few days. I think that in most cases this should cover my actual usage, and worse case I can run an extension cord out to the house if I really need to use power tools a few days in a row or for several hours at a time. The other thing that makes this tricky is that, even though I know the electrical requirements of my current tools, I have no way of knowing what tools I may have in the future that I'd like to run from this system. I will need to either compromise between having some leeway without spending too much on capacity I do not need, or make sure that the system I put together is easily expandable.

Once I have a handle on my needs, I will next need to research my options regarding the various components. I've already done some of this, but not enough to have made any decisions. I know that my system will consist of 4 primary components: the solar panels themselves, a charge controller, batteries, and an inverter. I'll need to make several decisions here to determine my needs for each component, such as, will I run everything on AC, or will I try to run some things, such as lights, on DC, and therefore avoid some of the loss that occurs due to inverter efficiency loss. My guess is that I'll likely end up doing a post on each of the components, describing my research and decisions on each.

For anyone not familiar with a PV system, I will provide a very basic summary of how the system will go together. The solar panels will be mounted on the roof of the shed, pointing to the south. I will likely make the mounting brackets adjustable, so that I can change their angle during different parts of the year, to better match the angle of the sun. Wiring from the panels will connect to the charge controller, which will ensure that the batteries are not being overcharged. The electricity generated from the solar panels will be used to charge the batteries, which is what will ultimately be powering my devices. From the batteries, wiring will run to the inverter, which will convert the DC power from the batteries into the AC power that most household devices use. Of course this is an over-simplistic explanation, but its the basic idea of how the system will be put together.

I do not have a time frame for this project, nor a budget. I'd love to be ready to install the panels by next Spring, but we'll just have to see how things go. As for the budget, I'd like to do this for under $1,000, but I'm not going to set a budget until I've done more research. The last thing I want to do is box myself into a design that doesn't deliver what I need, because I set a budget without first knowing what was realistic.

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